Homeless shelter waitlists grow as temperatures drop

Some shelters have run out of beds. In Appleton, an overflow program still can't meet the demand.
Published: Dec. 19, 2022 at 4:18 PM CST
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APPLETON, Wis. (WBAY) - Every single bed at Pillars’ homeless shelters is taken as people try to escape the cold weather.

“Our shelters are completely full which means that people who are struggling with first time homelessness, homelessness in general, they have to sleep outside,” Street Outreach Case Manager Emily Peterson said.

A grant from the City of Appleton jumpstarted a new Winter Shelter Overflow Program, giving limited motel vouchers to people eligible for shelter who can’t get in right away.

“We’re accommodating in addition to the 130 or so folks we put in each of our shelters every night... another 25 or 30 every night in an overflow situation,” Executive Director Lisa Strandberg began, “What we try to do is to accommodate folks when those temperatures are so bitterly cold that there really aren’t any good solutions in any way to stay warm.”

It’s still not enough to keep up with the demand.

Pillars said there’s about 100 people on the waitlist for the Adult and Family Shelter. Out of that 100, 36 are children.

Dozens more are waiting to get into the other Pillars Adult Shelter.

“The wait times tend to be longer because people aren’t leaving so they’re not transitioning out as quickly,” Peterson said.

The Biden-Harris administration announced a plan to reduce homelessness 25% by 2025 Monday.

Pillars noted more affordable housing is key to reducing homelessness in our area.

“We know in the Fox Valley that we are short housing units just generally for people of all economic levels... but particularly for people who need rent of $650 or less a month,” Strandberg explained.

Pillars always accepts donations for things like blankets and soap, but as temperatures fall, hand warmers and thick, waterproof blankets are in high demand.

“If folks are interested in contributing items we encourage them to check our website and see what those things are that we most need because sometimes it’s surprising. It’s not socks!” Strandberg said. “These are items that we will use throughout the year, whether it’s garbage bags and toilet paper, gloves, pajamas, you name it. Folks are coming out and dropping it off.”

Pillars employees urge everyone to exercise kindness ahead of the holidays.

“The one thing I always want folks to know about homelessness is to remember your compassion. To be caring. To even just smile if you see someone suffering in the cold.”

If you or someone you know is struggling, call Pillars at 920-734-9192.