Madison's homeless struggle to stay warm

Wind chills well below zero make shelter crucial for survival

Published On: Dec 24 2013 06:28:05 PM CST   Updated On: Dec 10 2013 12:13:31 PM CST
MADISON, Wis. -

The basement of Bethel Lutheran Church in downtown Madison was made even warmer Monday by the 105 people escaping the bitter cold.

Among those inside and grateful for some refuge from Mother Nature was the resident Shakespeare of the warming shelter.

"I do a lot of artwork, poems," Alan Durbin said.

Durbin got out of prison six years ago and hasn't been able to find a steady full-time job since his discharge. He spends every day of the season moving from one place to another, memorizing when different shelters are open.

"I've thought about going home back to Illinois or back someplace where it's warmer, but it costs money," Durbin said.

Durbin said sleeping in the frigid cold is not an option for him. He has had walking pneumonia, but he is more worried about those who choose to brave the weather instead of turning to a shelter.

"Finding them dead in the morning. That's my biggest fear," Durbin said. "When I get up, I walk around the square. That's the first thing I do to see if there's anybody laying there."

Doug Porteous also spends his days in Bethel after surviving a month and a half on the streets with just two blankets.

"It's rough, real rough. If you can't get in the shelter, there's only one place to go. Go sleep in the dirt," Porteous said.

Without a permanent government-run day shelter, Porteous said there are not enough resources for the homeless.

“This is just a start. We need more. We need more,” Porteous said.

Both Porteous and Durbin left Bethel at 4 p.m. to get in line at Grace Episcopal Church. Durbin said if you don't get there early or at least on time, you run the risk of not getting a cot out of the subzero wind chill.

Porteous said there will be a day when he is out of the shelter system, but for now, it's enough to stay alive in this freezing cold weather.

"If I wake up, it's going to be a good day," Porteous said.