Wausau May Soon Have Warming Center for Homeless

By: Liz Hayes Email
By: Liz Hayes Email

As we enter the winter months, we feel lucky to have a warm place to stay at night. Unfortunately, not everyone is so lucky.

Although there are homeless shelters in the area, not everyone qualifies to stay in one, but a new initiative is aiming to make sure nobody freezes.

A joint effort between the United Way of Marathon County, Catholic Charities and St. Paul's United Church of Christ is helping create a warming center that will be housed in downtown Wausau.

Tuesday night the city's planning commission approved a conditional use permit for the site; it will now go to the full city council for a vote next month.

If approved, the warming center, located in the lower level of St. Paul's Community Center on 4th Street, will open by February 1 from 9 p.m. until 7 a.m. Volunteers will run the operation under one paid coordinator.

"The warming center will accept anybody as long as their behavior is appropriate so they have a warm place to stay during the night time hours," said Dept. Chief Bryan Hilts of the Wausau Police Department, who also serves as chairman of the United Way of Marathon County's Homeless and Housing Coalition.

Some homeless shelters, like at the Salvation Army, don't accept everyone because of reasons including having certain criminal convictions.

Hilts says officers occasionally deal with homeless people during the winter, who many times stay under bridges, in stairwells, or parking garages. Others do something to get arrested just to stay in jail.

The warming center is being modeled after a similar center in La Crosse also run by Catholic Charities. It works well to fill a void in that community and is now at full capacity almost every night.

"We don't want anybody to freeze in winter weather," said Bill Panzigrau.

Panzigrau is on the board of directors for The Open Door of Marathon County, which works with recently released jail inmates and connects them with community resources. Some of them are homeless.

He says the warming center effort has already received some cash donations.

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