FOX47 NEWS - Out In The Cold: The Plight Of The Homeless In The Winter

Jeff Angileri
Feb 27, 2008, 7:43 PM

They hide in the basement of the Capitol, and inside libraries and churches to escape the snow and bitter cold temperatures of this harsh winter.

And that's only during the day.

According to a 2006 annual report on the homeless-

3,487 people stayed at least one night in a Dane County shelter program.

That includes men, women and families.

On a frigid Monday night in downtown Madison, Herbert Cole Jr. watches people rush past him.

Many looking to escape the cold-

But for Cole- the steps outside of the Grace Episcopal Church- is where he is going to stay the night.

Im trying to get some sleep because I have to place to go, Cole says.

There is a drop shelter in the basement of the church- but Cole says he isn't allowed in there.

Many shelters, including Porchlight and the Salvation Army- screen the homeless before taking them in.

Officials with Porchlight Inc. say those who are intoxicated or disruptive are often turned away.

I got a medical condition and they don't want me in there, I have diarrhea and they're afraid I will mess their mattresses up and they have to by new ones, Cole says.

Cole says sleeping on the steps is warm-even though the actual temperature is near 20 degrees.

On colder nights- he seeks shelter underneath the stairs of the capitol, near heating grates outside of area businesses and sometimes, he says, even inside dumpsters.

It's inhumane.. they do more for stray dogs than they do for us, Cole says.

And tacking the cold during the day is a whole other struggle.

Linda Bickerstaff blends with the crowd at the Madison Public Library, as she reads the one of the daily newspapers.

It's here that she spends several hours-just waiting.

The good thing is that you can read. Otherwise you go to the catholic church. Thank god for the libraries and the church, Bickerstaff says.

Others like Fannie Mitchell has a different routine.

I get up at 6 and eat, take medication, get out in the cold, go to the hospitality house or go to the capitol, Mitchell says.

Monday she chose the basement of the capitol.

Mitchell is one of the many homeless people who suffer from disabilities- which makes the winter months especially difficult.

I walk around in this cold I'm on medication and I'm going to die out in this cold because I have diabetes and my feet freezes, Mitchell says.

Mitchell and Bickerstaff both stay at the Salvation Army's women's shelter- which like most shelters in Dane County- are packed during the winter months.

On this night- the shelter is at it's capacity.

It's this time of year that shelters like the Salvation Army try to do more to help homeless.

Social Services Director Barbara Lindsay says they open their doors one to two hours earlier-

And when temperatures drop below zero, they don't turn anyone away.

If it is a cold weather night, we don't hold anybody to that, because we can't. It's not humane, Lindsay says.

But when temperatures reach tolerable levels- everyday at the shelter counts.

Lindsay says single homeless women can only spend around 60 days a year at the shelter.

She says it's within that time period that the shelter expects them to get a job.

That's our goal, not to keep you here for ever, but to get you on your own, Lindsay says.

Lindsay says they do offer resources such as case managers to help their women find employment.

Still, Bickerstaff says that's not enough.

She says she had a job a few months ago, working with the hearing impaired.

But with a limited stay at the shelter, keeping a job is nearly impossible.

It takes three weeks to get the first pay check, so where are you then. Back on the streets, and you can't go to work the next day because you have no where to live, Bickerstaff says.

On Monday, Bickerstaff's nights at the shelter were up.

We followed her as she raced the streets of downtown Madison-visiting the catholic ministries and the YWCA.

Bickerstaff describes it as going in a circle, because after finding a place to stay, it will only be a few weeks before she has to do it all over again.

The Dane County annual report says there are 322 beds in 10 shelter programs in Dane County.

And that includes shelters for men, women, and families.

Lindsay says they are working on two new projects for homeless families.

One is with Housing and Urban Development to get more subsidized housing,

And another with the United Way called 'Rapid Rehousing,' which is a program that provides permanent housing for the homeless.

But Lindsay says there aren't many programs for single women and those without disabilities or families.

Steve Schooler with Porchlight Inc. says the situation is the same for single men as well.

Lindsay says the shelter is at full capacity during the winter, and there aren't enough staff to adequately serve the homeless people staying there.

If you would like to help or for more information, log onto http://www.salvationarmydanecounty.org/

For Porchlight Inc.


For the YWCA


For the Interfaith Hospitality Network


For Hope House


For The Briarpatch Runaway and Homeless Youth Program

Call (608) 251-1126 Or 800-798-1126

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