‘We’re really struggling’: Those without homes brace for frigid cold; Madison groups prepare to help

MADISON, Wis. – As many brace for the upcoming frigid cold temperatures, groups in the community are preparing to protect the city’s most vulnerable.

Chloe Hausmann isn’t just worried about herself, but others living in tents instead of homes.

“Right now, we’re really struggling, and it’s really cold,” Hausmann said. “Some of us might really pass away.”

She said she’s been staying in a tent encampment since June after she lost her job – a product of the pandemic, which she believes is contributing to a rise in homelessness.

“(People think) homelessness is a choice,” Hausmann said. “Especially now that COVID hit, it’s not a choice.”

“It is going to be brutally cold, and we’re trying to figure out what to do,” said Michael Moody, cofounder and CEO of Catalyst for Change. “It’s absolutely dangerous.”

Moody braves the cold at night, too, talking and building relationships with those experiencing homelessness. Catalyst for Change, which began last year, has a contract with the city to do mediation work, bringing services, supplies and outreach to those living in encampments, on the streets or in their cars.

“Now it’s coming out and saying, ‘Hey do you know what the weather’s like?’” Moody said.

On Wednesday night, he brought news of the weather along with supplies including propane, masks and hand-warmers to McPike Park, while trying to connect anyone sleeping outside with shelter.

“We keep offering those services until they’re ready,” Moody said. “We’ve had a couple people we thought would never go in finally (be) like, ‘Yep, it’s just too cold.’”

The Salvation Army shelters single women and families and connects others with resources, with the goal of not leave anyone out in the cold.

During the upcoming cold snap, Madison’s overnight emergency shelter for men ran in collaboration with Porchlight is opening its doors 15 minutes early and loosening restrictions, allowing even those usually suspended from the shelter protection from the elements.

“No one will be turned away,” Drop-in Shelter Director Preston Patterson said. “It’s very important, because we have one night coming 20 below with wind-chill.”

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Patterson said shuttles will take men from the day center, the Beacon, to the overnight shelter on First Street, where they expect a population increase of 20 to 25% because of the weather.

“We have more than enough space here,” Patterson said. “We have 260 beds available. Right now, we’re not even really using half of them. That will change, certainly, in the next few days.”

Moody is working to make sure anyone who chooses to stay outside stays as warm as possible, while encouraging them to head to the shelters.

“So, making sure everyone’s aware and consciously choosing to be out here,” Moody said. “Really, you know, a little more forcefully trying to convince them it’s in their best interest and the safety concerns of staying out here.”

“My plan is to just hopefully get into a shelter,” Hausmann said. “If not, really hunker down under a bunch of blankets.”

Patterson said Porchlight would be greatly appreciative for donations of new warm clothing, such as jackets and boots. More information on donating can be found here.