Shelters find keeping homeless warm easier this winter

Shelters find keeping homeless warm...

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) - As the frigid cold continues, it's critical everyone has a place to stay warm, including those who have no home.

While area warming shelters are getting plenty of use, organizations say they haven't had to turn anyone away or rely on emergency shelters thanks in part to recent community efforts.

At the Franciscan hospitality house in downtown La Crosse, everyone is welcome.

"I come here every day, almost,” said Zodiac, who was formerly homeless. "For people who have no place to stay, this is by far the best place to go."

The hospitality house is especially important on bitterly cold days like Wednesday.

"It makes me feel really warm inside to be able to offer something as simple as a warm place for people to go,” Franciscan hospitality house coordinator Tristine Bauman said.

"It means a lot,” Zodiac said.

Though he now has a place to live, Zodiac comes by to see his friends.

"Every once in a while, I try to make everybody smile and laugh,” he said.

He remembers, however, spending his nights at the La Crosse Warming Center when he was homeless.

"The volunteers there do whatever they can, whenever they can, no matter the situation,” Zodiac said.

Although warming center coordinator Mark Schimph recalls times there simply wasn't space for everyone.

"Turning away, for me professionally and personally, is the hardest thing I do,” Schimpf said

But this winter, despite regularly filling up to capacity at about 40 each night, he hasn't had to turn anyone away.

"That's a really positive, welcome change,” Schimpf said.

The center partners with the Salvation Army, and between the two, they've been able to take care of everyone who needs shelter.

"We do everything we can to make sure everyone's safe and housed during this cold time of year,” said Nick Ragner, public relations and development director.

Ragner said the shelter has about 30-40 of its 80 beds open, which can be partly explained by ongoing efforts from the La Crosse Collaborative to End Homelessness.

Last winter, the La Crosse Police Department had to open up an emergency warming shelter a handful of times when the La Crosse warming shelter and Salvation Army were full.

That hasn't been necessary this winter.

"I think there's a lot of really good things happening in the community as far as getting some of the homeless population housed,” Ragner said.

"It's always good to at least help people in need,” Zodiac said.

The Salvation Army keeps its gym open during the day for anyone to stop by, and the Franciscan Hospitality House downtown is open weekday afternoons from 12:30 to 4:30.

Sacred Grounds Coffee Sanctuary is also open in the Wesley United Methodist Church Tuesdays and Thursdays 8 a.m. to 11 a.m.

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