Northeast Wis. homeless shelters feeling strain as weather turns cold and pandemic persists

Published: Nov. 16, 2020 at 11:10 PM CST
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - Homeless shelters across Northeast are feeling the needs of the community as the pandemic presses on.

Now that winter upon us, shelter staff is ramping up to serve more people as resources become stretched.

Outside the New Community Shelter the snow flurries around people lined up to get a free meal on Monday.

“We’ll probably serve or distribute about 300 meals tonight,” said Terri Refsguard, Executive Director of New Community Shelter.

Chicken is on the menu; bought, cooked and packaged by shelter staff who have served up to 450 meals on any given night during the pandemic.

“It’s been quite a strain on our community meal program, because we’ve always had great volunteer support, but now because of COVID we can’t have people in,” said Refsguard.

Staff at SAM-25 in Shawano just opened the overnight shelter this month and are helping between 7 and 9 people so far. The shelter can house about 8 families.

Jennifer Bisterfeldt, executive director of SAM-25, says they’re helping more people by connecting them with resources related to housing and unemployment.

“The resource sessions that we’ve been providing, especially since the shutdown, have tripled when compared to last year at this time,” said Bisterfeldt.

Bisterfeldt says she’s concerned about staffing as COVID-19 continues to spread in the community.

“If we have more than two or up to two people out sick or having to quarantine, we would have to close the shelter because we wouldn’t have enough people to take care of those in need,” said Bisterfeldt.

It’s something those at St. John’s Community Shelter are also concerned about, now that they have two 24/7 homeless shelters to manage.

Men are housed at Spring Lake Church at the Bay Lake City Center, and the women are at St. John’s.

Executive Director, Alexia Wood, says running the two centers was a leap of faith.

“From a financial standpoint it’s significant. From a staffing standpoint, we are certainly stretched very thin. So, recognizing that we may be hit with periods where people need to isolate or quarantine for one reason or another here over the next six months, it’s certainly a step of fait and yet one we felt was necessary to take to serve the community we live in,” said Wood.

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