By Ariele Vaccaro
This past week, some of us probably sat in our warm, cozy homes with a cup of hot coffee in our hands and a blanket around our shoulders.
We may have looked out the window into the bitter cold, white landscape, and struggled to imagine what it would be like to lose our homes and all that comes with it.
However, according to Executive Director of programming at Milwaukee’s House of Peace, it can happen to anyone.
“It only takes you missing one paycheck,” said Sheets. For those working check-to-check, this truth is all to real. When temperatures dropped to the negative tens, some Milwaukee residents weren’t in warm homes.
Rather, they were exposed to the bitter cold air without some basic winter gear, likes hats and gloves.
That’s why, this winter, Sheets will be at the Capuchin Clothing Center, handing out warm coats, sweaters, socks, and other clothing to guests of the House of Peace.
The organization held it’s Warm Winter Drive last month and distributed much of the clothes from that drive during the holiday season.
Volunteers are still gifting the remaining clothing and gear to guests.
Sheets has been working at the House of Peace for 14 years. She only sees demand for the group’s services growing over the next few years.
According to Sheets, while state and federal aid to the working poor and homeless diminishes, House of Peace will see more and more guests.
In addition to its clothing services, House of Peace supplies food to its guests at a food pantry, open from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. The pantry closes between 12 p.m. and 1 p.m. for lunch. It serves anyone within the 53205, 53206, and 53233 zip codes.
House of Peace, located at 1702 West Walnut Street, has been helping its guests keep warm every winter since 1968.
Not too far away, one of House of Peace’s allies in the effort to keep Milwaukee residents warm during this Wisconsin winter is working hard to give essential services to its guests.
Saint Ben’s is located at 1015 North 9th Street. It’s the home of Saint Ben’s Community Meal and the Front Door Ministry, offers not only dinners Sunday through Friday, but clothing, eye glasses, birth certificates, bus tickets, copays for prescriptions, free showers and even help acquiring a high school equivalency diploma or GED.
While the House of Peace serves mostly women and children, it’s men that make up most of Saint Ben’s guests.
Director of the Community Meal, Brother Rob Roemer, meets guests of all different backgrounds. Most are individuals.
Some guests have recently come from incarceration. They often need basic articles of clothing.
“It’s amazing how many people come to us with sandals,” said Roemer.
In biting cold weather such as what Milwaukee residents felt on Wednesday, having any exposed skin can be dangerous.
So, Saint Ben’s Front Door Ministry opened its doors on this past chilling Wednesday afternoon to guests who needed gloves, hats, socks, and numerous other winter items.
At 12:50, several guests were already standing outside, waiting to experience hard work and compassion from a number of volunteers.
Inside, those volunteers fitted guests for glasses, helped guests to find winter gear, offered them hot showers and hygiene amenities, and even aided them in getting new birth certificates.
At 5:15, Community Meal began. There, volunteers would share a meal with guests.
Roemer enforces a policy of not prodding guests with questions.
Rather, he encourages his volunteers to talk to and get to know those who come to the Community Meal, for they may be hungry not just a hot dinner, but also friendship.
To Roemer, stereotypes of the homeless are all too common.
The Capuchin Franciscan would like to assure those who are unsure of the nature of homelessness: “A lot of these people are good people. They have good hearts. They want to work.”
Roemer and Sheets are both astounded by the amount of gratitude guests of both House of Peace and Saint Ben’s show.
“They have so little, yet they’re so grateful for what they have,” Sheets said.
Both organizations are currently accepting winter gear, such as coats, hats, gloves, blankets, socks, and scarves.