MADISON, Wis. - As the temperature drops across Wisconsin, the Salvation Army's shelters fill up. The Salvation Army of Dane County has been running at capacity for the past few weeks.
With temperatures plummeting once again, the Madison shelter is gearing up for another couple of busy nights.
The Salvation Army is the only women's and emergency family shelter in town. Approximately 45 women, 55 children, and 19 families can stay there when it's running at "full capacity."
"We're the only game in town," said Carly Sobwe, the Dane County Salvation Army's coordinator. "It's not like, 'Sorry, we're full, try another number.' There's no other place, so we really do what we can. We try to be creative so no one is out in the cold."
The center's director says winter is the most dangerous time of year for people who are homeless, and she calls this winter especially brutal.
"I can't even get to my car without freezing or get out of my house in the morning," said Sobwe. "I can't imagine sleeping outside or not knowing where I'm going to sleep tonight, especially with kids. And that's what people who stay here are struggling with."
The National Weather Service reported that from Dec. 24 to Jan. 3, the average temperature in Madison was a mere 1.3 degrees, the second coldest on record. The last time it's been that cold for 11 days in a row, in 1896.
The Salvation Army provides a free place for anyone who needs shelter. Everyone gets a hot shower, a toothbrush and toothpaste, and breakfast, a snack, and dinner. During the day, the Salvation Army offers case management to help people get of their shelter and into a home of their own.
Because the Salvation Army offers all services for free, it asks for the public's help to collect everything they need.
Sobwe said her shelter needs "just the essentials. Like toothbrushes, toothpaste. We go through a lot of that. Towels, blankets, pillows. I always say pillows shouldn't be washed as much as we do. People like clean pillows."
Sobwe also reminds families who have a car that, when temperatures drop this low, it is not safe to sleep inside it. She welcomes them into the Salvation Army's shelter.
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