Madison men’s shelter sees less traffic than expected during winter storm, holiday weekend

MADISON, Wis. — Staff at Porchlight’s men’s shelter staff were prepared to take in as many people as they had to keep them out of blizzard conditions and dangerously cold temperatures, but they actually had fewer guests than expected.

Beginning last Wednesday, shelters across Madison are implementing extreme weather protocol, which means they won’t turn anyone away due to capacity or shelter stay limits unless they were suspended for violence or threatening behavior.

Shelter manager Fares Fares said they usually average about 220 guests a night, but with the cold, they expected to have around 250 people utilize the east side shelter. So staff started laying out cots in addition to the usual mattress beds.

Many of those cots, however, went unused. The highest number of users was on Wednesday with 230 guests and then decreased over the holiday weekend with the lowest at 203 on Saturday.

RELATED: As cold claims more lives last winter, east Madison men’s shelter hopes to keep more people inside this year

Still, for the guests that didn’t have anywhere else to go for the holidays, Fares said his job means thinking about more than their physical safety and sometimes spending the extra time just to talk.

“The coldness and the blizzard, you know really makes people feel more lonely and just generally sad that they have to experience this,” Fares said. “I gave a speech about, you know, joy is within you, respect is something you give to your fellow human being and no matter where you lay your head at, that’s something you can give to another person.”

In addition to not turning people away, Madison Metro provided transportation for unhoused people who are disabled, to and from nighttime shelters and daytime services.

County outreach teams also coordinated with people who sleep in places like cars and tents to warn them about last week’s storm and help them find more suitable places to stay. Hotels were made available to some in need.

Porchlight’s record for guests in one night is 243, which happened last Monday. Extreme weather protocol at Madison shelters will remain in effect through Tuesday.

City leaders from Madison’s Department of Planning, Community and Economic Development said they believe there are fewer Madisonians sleeping unsheltered this winter compared to last.

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