Homeless Await Opening Of New Daytime Shelter

A new daytime shelter for area homeless is likely opening in a little more than a week, and for those without a place to stay warm, it can?t come soon enough.

Both the Salvation Army and Porchlight said a daytime shelter they?re planning for the old Don Miller building on East Washington Avenue can help, but it can?t actually open until the Common Council approves the plan on Dec. 13. There are a number of options for the homeless to stay on cold nights, but it?s the increasingly cold daytime hours that have become a problem with the Capitol basement no long open to the public and the downtown library closed.

It?s something Kelly Benz has learned to deal with since becoming homeless six months ago.

?The first thing you do, you find a place to live and find a place to eat,? Benz said. ?In the summertime, you can stay out. But in the wintertime, you don?t have any choice. It?s going to be 22 degrees out tonight. It?s just too cold.?

After losing his job as a Salvation Army shelter cook in Wausau earlier this year, the tables turned and he became the one homeless and looking for help. He has spent most of his nights since then at the Grace Episcopal men?s shelter in Madison, which is run by the nonprofit Porchlight, and he spends days at Bethel Lutheran Church when he can.

?It keeps me busy. I volunteer, and I cook. That?s what I do for a living. I got to fill my day with something,? said Benz.

But many of Madison?s homeless don?t have anywhere to go when the temperature drops.

?It?s anyone?s guess as to where they have been during the day,? said Leigha Weber, Salvation Army social services director, of a family waiting outside the shelter Monday afternoon. ?At least they sort of seek refuge in the safety of the parking lot and our building,?

?That?ll be a place for them to stay warm. We will be accepting volunteers for serving meals if they are available. But the main thing, it is a place that will be open seven days a week where they can go and stay warm during the day,? said Elizabeth Hendrickson, a caseworker for Porchlight.

Benz said he agreed the weekend availability of the new shelter will certainly help, although he said one can never underestimate the value of personal generosity.

?This weekend, I got to stay at a friend?s house that I work with at Bethel for two days, and that was the most terrific two days I ever spent. I got to sleep in a bed, got to talk to his son, got to watch a little football. It was terrific. I felt like a human again,? said Benz.

Assuming the Common Council and committees approve Porchlight?s use plan for the Don Miller space, they hope to open the shelter on Dec. 14. The plan allows for the building to be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., which is when most evening shelters would open.

Porchlight asks any group interesting in providing and serving meals at the new shelter to contact its offices.