By Dylan Deprey
With the winter weather finally making its mark on Wisconsin, people strive to return to their warm houses and go into hibernation.
One would think there would be a spike in attendance at homeless shelters to avoid the frigid streets during the winter months.
In reality, most Milwaukee homeless shelters are almost at or at maximum capacity year round.
Wendy Weckler is the executive director of one of Milwaukee’s homeless shelters, The Hope House.
She noted that there is always a long wait list to get in.
“We don’t really see the numbers go up. It’s pretty much always full,” Weckler said.
Since 2015, The Hope House has used a Coordinated Entry System to assess the vulnerability of applicants to the elements outside.
This is where the people who call for assistance are based on an index of multiple items like age, health, and family status.
“It used to be whoever called at the right time got in, so it was based on who was the best person at calling,” Weckler said. “Now it’s based on who is the highest on the scale.”
Cindy Krahenbuhl, executive director at The Guest House, does see a slight increase during cold snaps of winter weather.
“In Milwaukee there is 1,500 homeless people a night.
There are some people that don’t like to come to shelters but will come during the winter.” Krahenbuhl said.
The Guest House has room for 86 men, but there are always people waiting to get in.
It has been tradition for The Guest House to focus on helping the men of Milwaukee get back on their feet. They also have room for one hundred other homeless families.
Both The Guest House and The Hope House try to prepare as early as possible for the winter months.
They take many donations to keep people bundled up including coats, boots, scarves, gloves, and hats.
“We try to make sure we have winter covered because one day it’s sixty degrees and the next it’s twenty,” Krahenbuhl said.
Although there is good amount of winter clothing, some donations are harder to get than others.
“We get an influx of kids coats, but it’s hard to get adult coats,” Weckler said.
For both shelters, having funding is key to staying warm and keeping the lights on during the dark winter nights.
“We get around forty percent of our funds from the government and the rest we have to go out and get ourselves,” Weckler said.
The misconception people have of homeless is a factor that leads to a lack of funding for the shelters.
“I think people see the homeless as this old man with a big bushy beard, but the average age of a homeless person in the U.S. is 9-years-old,” Weckler said.
“It (homelessness) happens to people from any economic background or ethnic group. It’s just people,” Krahenbuhl said.
According to Krahenbuhl, escaping homelessness is more than just going out and getting a job.
She also noted how people have different challenges that they need to face, including drug and alcohol addiction and mental illness.
“Once people come down to visit, they see it firsthand and they understand what people are going through,” Krahenbuhl said.
The Guest House uses holiday season to its full advantage to help with fundraising.
One campaign they have aids people in the search of for the gift for someone.
“If people don’t know what to get for someone they can make a donation on their part,” Krahenbuhl said.
“We always take cash donations just to keep the place warm.”