New Shelter in Columbia County Could Help Neighboring Dane

By: Melissa Wollering Email
By: Melissa Wollering Email

Homeless shelters in south central Wisconsin are housing a record number of people this year. Now one small community is helping itself and neighboring cities and hopes others catch on.

A warm room and a mattress may not seem like much, but on a frigid January day, it is a hot commodity for anyone who is homeless. Steve Schooler is the Executive Director of Porchlight, which operates the Men's Emergency Drop-In Shelter at Grace Episcopal Church. Over the last few years, the program has packed more men inside because its philosophy leaves no one in the cold.

"Right now we are right at capacity," says Schooler. "I mean 130 to 150 men per night, which is what we're seeing, is really, really stretching us."

Fifty miles away, Wendy Metcalf is putting the finishing touches on Columbia County's first homeless shelter. Members of the community and county workers decided to raise money and ask local businesses for help. They remodeled what is now the River Haven Homeless Shelter without burdening taxpayers. Up until now, the county housed people in motels for up to two days as needed.

"If you've got a family with children and they've only got one or two nights in a motel, it's hard to secure employment, housing, transportation, day care."

Dick Inglett, the Pastor of Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Portage, says he believes the shelter will help people who would otherwise travel to Dane County for services.

"We talked about...relieving some of the pressure from Dane County, that we would want to do that as far as not having the people in our community have to leave in order to get services," says Inglett.

Steve Schooler says the new shelter should help slightly with crowding in more-populated counties, but groups need long-term placement programs to achieve their ultimate goal.

"Trying to put them into the housing first and then find support services so that we can maintain them in housing, that should reduce the need for the shelter," says Schooler.

The River Haven Homeless Shelter will open January 29th. They are looking for volunteers to staff the house 365 days a year and help clients find jobs and permanent housing. You can call Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Portage to help.

Grace Episcopal is also looking for more groups to bring hot meals to the shelter once a month for the men. Call them if you're interested.

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