GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - Green Bay's homeless problem is in the spotlight after a man sleeping in a Dumpster died Wednesday morning after being dumped along with its contents into a garbage truck.
"He was seeking safety, and that's specifically why he went to that Dumpster, and it's not the first time somebody living on the streets has sought refuge in the Dumpster. We hear it quite often, actually," Alexia Wood, the executive director of St. John the Evangelist Homeless Shelter, told us.
Police say 55-year-old Thomas Worth was sleeping on a pile of recycled papers behind St. Willebrord Catholic Church Tuesday night. He and another man were trying to escape the rain, and Worth chose the Dumpster as his refuge.
He woke up in the garbage truck. He banged for attention. After officers got him out he complained about being hurt and was taken to a hospital. A couple hours later the hospital told them Worth had died.
Police don't know the nature of his injuries; they say he was talking and appeared fine when he was transported.
Advocates for the homeless say Worth's death is part of a larger problem in the community.
Worth had been living at a seasonal shelter downtown but likely didn't have a place to go when that shelter closed for the season in late April.
"When St. John's closes because it's summer months, we do see an increase in people walking around that appear to be homeless. We notice that there's an increase in complaints about homeless people. There's an increase in people living in like, for instance, Baird's Creek," Police Chief Andrew Smith said.
A city ordinance states St. John the Evangelist Homeless Shelter needs to close for 180 days a year.
Wood says the capacity of the shelter is 84 but when it's open it averages 87 people a night. This past winter as many as 110 people tried to find shelter there.
"Thom represents a much bigger population that's still here and still struggling and again last night were still on the streets," she said, "and so what can we as a community do to rally around them, to love and support them, and to make sure his legacy lives on in a positive way."
Karen Michaels, president of the Brown County Homeless and Housing Coalition, issued this statement Thursday:
“We are heartbroken over the news of the accidental death of the homeless man who was sleeping in a downtown Green Bay dumpster. This tragic event unfortunately highlights the unseen reality of homelessness experienced by many individuals and families in Brown County. Despite the ongoing and committed efforts of hardworking service providers to connect our homeless neighbors to available resources in our community, there remains a lack of safe and affordable housing for many. The Brown County Homeless and Housing Coalition will continue, and encourages others to join, efforts that build a compassionate community with safe housing for all."
Wood says Worth was a contributing member of society who was down on his luck and scared of sleeping on the streets.
Worth was not the first to sleep in a Dumpster and be injured from the fall into the back of a garbage truck. He's not even the first homeless death in Green Bay this year.
"He wasn't out there thinking he was invincible. He had a fear for his survival, and so for it to end the way it did, I'm hopeful when the community is outraged that it will lead to change," Wood said.
"If members of our community are dying without access to safe and warm housing, I don't think any of us can sit here and say we're doing enough," she said.