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Community Warming Center for homeless gets unanimous council approval


WAUSAU, WI (WSAU) - Wausau’s proposed Community Warming Center for the homeless received a warm welcome from the common council Tuesday night.

President Lisa Rasmussen says after a short discussion, the approval of permits and permission to open passed unanimously. “We approved it as soon as tomorrow, but I’m not sure when they’ll be ready to open the doors.”

Christine Ellis is with the United Way, and says their 2-1-1 information line deals with a large number of housing problems. She says, “Sixty percent of all calls that come in to 2-1-1 are related to housing challenges as an unmet need.” Ellis says over 50 groups and individuals formed a coalition to solve this problem, and one of the partners already has a working operation elsewhere in Wisconsin. “We are excited to open February 1st. Catholic Charities of La Crosse has a successful model that we’ve been able to follow, and Catholic Charities has really taken on the lead role in developing a plan, and we’re following the same plan they have in La Crosse.”

The lower level of the St. Paul United Church of Christ Community Center on 4th Street has received many contributions from area businesses and volunteers to prepare the new shelter. Ellis says, “It is close to ready. We had a very generous donation from MedLine and Aspirus, so we have wonderful reclining-style chairs. The St. Paul’s United Church of Christ Building Committee has the room all ready to go. Per-Mar Security as well as the building committee has prepared lit exit signs in accordance with the Fire Marshall, and things like that.”

Wausau Police Deputy Chief Bryan Hilts says the new warming facility will help protect homeless when they need it most, nights from November through March. “That’s exactly what this is for. It’s just an emergency shelter to get people out of the cold during our most severe weather months.” He predicts Wausau’s warming house will see similar usage as the La Crosse program it’s modeled after.

Deacon Richard Sage is from Catholic Charities of the Diocese of La Crosse. Sage says several faith organizations are part of the 50 member coalition, and it is to serve anyone in need. He is optimistic they can open by the end of the month, but it will take recruitment and training of volunteers. He says Catholic Charities will be the lead agency. “Catholic Charities will be the operator of the Warming Center. That means we’ll bear the responsibility for it. We carry the liability insurance. We hire the director, and we’ll take care of that end of it and bear the expenses. The director, him or herself, will be responsible for getting the volunteers and doing the training.” Sage says they will help with the initial training efforts at start up.

Once operational, the Community Warming Center will be able to house up to 15 people overnight.

Community Information Meetings for individuals and organizations interested in volunteering with the Wausau Community Warming Center are being offered Thursday, January 10th from 4:30 – 5:30 p.m. and again from 6:00 p.m to 7:00 p.m. at Church of the Resurrection Catholic Church at 2nd and McClellan Streets in downtown Wausau.

Volunteers are urgently needed.  If you can help, we have some phone numbers and email contacts for you below:

Specific information on the Wausau Community Warming Center may also be found here: http://www.cclse.org/wausauwarmingcenter.php.

Christine Ellis, Collaborative Associate, Housing and Homelessness Coalition at the United Way can be reached at 715-848-2927 or by e-mail at: cellis@unitedwaymc.org

You can also visit Catholic Charities online at  www.cclse.org.