Warming Shelters prepare for extreme cold, reflect on how operations have been with pandemic procedures

Published: Feb. 5, 2021 at 5:17 PM CST
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FOX VALLEY, Wis. (WBAY) - Back in October Action 2 News first reported how warming shelters prepared to open amid the pandemic.

Now they’re getting ready for the first extreme cold temperatures of this winter season.

“We are prepared to cover an emergency situation. We’re ready and willing to do that,” said Molly Yatso Butz, Executive Director of the Day by Day Warming Shelter in Oshkosh.

“I can’t imagine sleeping in a car or a truck or anything in this kind of temperatures, but I know some people do,” said Wilma Akright, Executive Director of Foundations for Living in Waupaca. “So I’m happy we can welcome people into a warm space where they aren’t going to get ill, or perhaps die, because it’s so cold.”

Day by Day decided to extend its hours throughout the weekend, allowing those in need to stay all day as opposed to just over night.

“Our staff stepped up immediately, covered two ten-hour shifts for Saturday and Sunday,” said Yatso Butz. “We put out a Facebook request to our community to serve meals, to have a meal catered… for Saturday and Sunday. I would say within 30 minutes we had that covered.”

Of course, both shelters will still maintain safety precautions as they have all season-long.

“To this point everything has been running really smoothly,” said Yatso Butz.

Day by Day has been able to maintain its 25-person a night capacity this season, while incorporating masking and other safety policies.

So far, Yatso Butz believes the shelter itself hasn’t had any COVID-19 exposures.

“We have had some volunteers call in and say due to a COVID exposure they were unable to come in, but we’ve called in our staff and our staff has covered,” said Yatzo Butz

Foundations for Living has also had little COVID exposure, but they needed to make some bigger adjustments this season. All of its operations were moved into a hotel.

“Already in August we realized that to have the warming shelter in a totally communal setting would be difficult because our spaces are very small,” aid Akright.

Akright wanted to help more than a few people at a time, so she and the city formed a partnership with the local Econolodge, renting six rooms at a discounted rate throughout the winter. Up to two people can stay in each room, unless it’s being used to quarantine someone with symptoms of COVID-19.

Donations have helped pay for the rooms through March, and the hotel is letting Foundations use a conference room for free to do COIVD screenings and to provide meals and supplies to their guests.

“They’ve just been very, very kind and caring about the people that we’re working with, too,” said Akright.

“It’s safer for us, it’s safer for the guests, it’s safer for everyone involved,” said Volunteer Michael Hall.

Hall says ten years ago he was in the same situation as those he now helps. So he knows, especially as temperatures drop dangerously, just how important support for warming shelters is.

“Most of these guys are pretty scared when they realize when it’s like it is now, below zero, and they have nowhere to sleep at night and there’s nowhere to go, no family to turn to,” said Hall. “It’s just a godsend to them and it really is an encouragement to the community to see they’re being taken care of.”

The warming shelters will continue to adjust and adapt as the temperature, and the state of the pandemic, changes. But both credit staff and community support for helping make those necessary changes possible.

“It’s really been amazing what the community has done to come together and take care of their other neighbors,” said Akright.

“We’re just really proud of the fact that we’ve been up and running this whole time and have been able to provide our community a safe shelter for our homeless individuals,” said Yatso Butz. “So I’m so proud of the work that we’re doing and I thank them for stepping up.”

Foundations for Living is still in need of financial help to book the hotel rooms through April and to help provide daily meals.

Visit the Foundations for Living Facebook page or website to learn how you can donate.

Day by Day is also accepting monetary donations and is in need of some items.

Visit its Facebook page or website to learn how to donate to Day by Day.

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