First responders, hotels team up to provide emergency lodging
JANESVILLE, Wis. — Law enforcement agencies are working with hotels around the stateline area to provide temporary lodging for people in crisis as part of a new program called First Light.
The program’s goal is to bridge the gap between community resources and agencies “until the first light of morning when more resources become available,” according to a news release.
“We provide them a list of resources so that at first light, in the morning, they have a list of phone numbers and resources that they can contact to further help them in their crisis,” said Sgt. Bryan Hasse, who works for the Town of Beloit Police Department.
He said the program is available for a variety of emergencies. Some examples he provided were an out-of-town family driving through Rock County and their car breaks down in the middle of the night or an elderly couple’s furnace going out at night in the middle of winter, leaving them without any place warm to stay.
“We think it helps the community feel safe and know that we are doing everything we can to try to provide services that are maybe a little bit outside the box,” Hasse said.
The idea for the program came from Hasse’s experience in law enforcement and the struggles officers sometimes face to find a place for people to stay.
“Sometimes we have officers tied up for several hours because once we have contact with these citizens, they become our responsibility and we can’t just let them go,” Hasse said.
He said his idea developed into an actual program as he went through the Leadership Development Academy of Rock County and his group took on the idea as their project.
“It’s not designed to replace any of the current programs in the county. However, we’ve found that many of those programs operate Monday through Friday during normal business hours, and it seems that typically we have people in need in the middle of the night, on a holiday or on a weekend, and we haven’t had any resources available to provide lodging for those people,” Hasse said.
His group pitched the idea to several local hotels, and three agreed to provide rooms for people to stay during emergencies. The team is also working with Blackhawk Community Credit Union, which agreed to underwrite all of the hotel rooms and pay for some of them.
The three hotels that are on board with the program are Ramada and Baymont Inn in Janesville and Best Western in South Beloit.
“We tried to keep the hotels along the interstate corridor so that it’s easier for law enforcement agencies, where they are in the county, to get to a hotel without an extended travel time,” Hasse said.
He said the program has been officially up and running for the past few months, and the first participant used the program earlier this month. He said a Rock County resident was a victim of a crime and needed a place to stay for a few days, so the Ramada stepped in to help.
“This will give them just that one-night opportunity to be able to pull some of their life together and be able to at least get a good night’s rest,” said Karl Anderson, the Ramada general manger.
To qualify for the program, the person has to meet certain criteria, which an officer determines.
“From the hotel side, it’s nice that the law enforcement already vets all of the people that come to the hotel in advance so we feel a great partnership with law enforcement to know that we’re going to have a nice, good guest or family that stays with us,” Anderson said.
Hasse said he’s hoping more hotels join the program, so there are plenty of places to take people in need. He said, depending on how the program goes over the next few years, he’d like to see it become a model for other communities.
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