Frigid weather ‘adds another layer of need’ for Salvation Army on top of holidays, pandemic

MADISON, Wis. – The brutal cold lining up with the Christmas holidays means homeless shelters will have their work cut out for them.

This year, the challenges have been piling on. Stephen Heck, director of operations and development at the Salvation Army in Madison, said they’ve seen a big increase in need in the community.

“Now you have cold temperatures, that adds another layer of need,” Heck said, adding that cold weather brings more people seeking homelessness services.

“Oh absolutely, then put it on top of Christmas,” Heck said. “We were already twice the number of single women at our shelter and already at capacity at hotels, so it’s a challenge. We’re up for the challenge.”

The Salvation Army has made changes to increase sanitation and keep people apart physically, including redesigning areas, adding dividers and setting up activities such as laundry in shifts. Their goal, however, is the same: to not leave anyone out in the cold.

“People can die when it’s that cold. It doesn’t take much, especially when you’re out in it all day long,” Heck said. “One of the things we really pride ourselves on is finding ways to help people when they come to us.”

The Salvation Army is sheltering single women and families and directing men to other resources, such as the new men’s temporary shelter at on First Street. The 43,000 square-foot space can shelter more than 250 men, opening in the city’s former fleet services building last week just in time for the cold weather.

“It’s so cold out that we are really asking that people come inside and get warm,” Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway said at its opening last Wednesday.

Though it’s hard to feel normal this year, especially for those spending Christmas at a shelter, the Salvation Army’s goal is to pile on as much holiday spirit as possible, making sure that there are plenty of gifts, activities and food to go around.

“We’re making sure kids have gifts. Meals look just like my meal at home,” Heck said. “Just to kind of normalize the situation as much as we can.”

The Red Kettle Campaign runs through Thursday, and is about $150,000 off its $500,000 goal. More information can be found here.