The Gazette: Homeless Shelter Waiting Lists Grow as Cold Weather Approaches

JANESVILLE, WI — Peyton Blum lay in his mother’s arms, eyes half open, mouth curled into a half-grin.

The 1-month-old sleepily looked around the room, oblivious to where he was or how he got there.

His mother, Monica Lipski, hopes he’ll never have to be there again.

Monica, Peyton and his father, Paul Blum, moved into the House of Mercy Homeless Center a few weeks ago. The family will spend the next six weeks saving money and preparing to be on their own.

“I just want to give him a life that I haven’t had,” Monica said. “I don’t want whatever happened to me growing up to happen to him.”

As the weather cools, the House of Mercy’s waiting list tends to get longer, Rejeana DeViana, interim manager at House of Mercy said. Other homeless shelters often report more inquires in the winter, too.

Monica and her family’s transition into House of Mercy did not happen quickly. They were on Mercy’s waiting list for a couple months, Monica said.

Monica first became homeless when she was 19, she said. The now 27-year-old grew up in Twin Lakes but moved to the Janesville area soon after becoming an adult.

She left Twin Lakes to get away from her family, who she says did not give her the best life as a child.

She wants to be different for her son.

“He is my No. 1 priority,” Monica said.

Monica worked all nine months of her pregnancy, she said. Paul works third shift at Miniature Precision Components, putting in 12-hour days while Monica is on maternity leave.

The couple lived with members of Paul’s family before they moved into House of Mercy, she said. They reached out to the shelter because they felt their previous living arrangement was not suitable for raising their baby.

Traditionally, the house has operated as a 30-day shelter, DeViana said. It is testing a 60-day program to see if that better suits its residents.

Brooke Anderson, operations coordinator at House of Mercy, said the 60-day period has helped residents but will make waiting lists longer.

Waiting is inevitable for all families, single parents and single women who request to say at the shelter, said DeViana.

How long families wait for rooms varies, DeViana said.

The waiting list is sometimes shorter near the holidays, when community members provide more options to help the homeless. Mercy sees a smaller waiting list around tax refund season, too, when people have money to pay rent, DeViana said.

The waiting list at Mercy is first-come, first-serve, DeViana said. Volunteers and staff members provide phone numbers to other shelters and resources to help those who have to wait.

The shelter can serve 25 people at a time, DeViana said. That usually accommodates about 8 to 13 households at once.

OPTIONS FOR SINGLE ADULTS

Shelter for homeless single adults can vary greatly.

GIFTS Men’s Shelter has been open in Janesville for almost 10 years, said Executive Director Stephanie Burton. The shelter saw its first waiting list in November 2014.

Since that November, waiting lists have come and gone, depending on how long men stay, Burton said. Its capacity is 25 men.

The heat of summer and cold of winter bring longer wait lists, Burton said.

When GIFTS has a waiting list, the staff does whatever it can to give people other resources, Burton said.

For some, the staff will find spots at Madison homeless shelters and provide men a round-trip bus ticket to get there, Burton said. If travel is not an option, the staff will call other area shelters or brainstorm with the person to figure out any other option for shelter.

“We don’t just send them out the door with zero options,” Burton said.

Sparrow’s Nest Homeless Shelter in Beloit accepts single Rock County residents, men and women, to stay for up to 30 days, said Supervisor Ron O’ Leary. Residents must spend their days working or looking for work.

Sparrow’s Nest is a first-come, first-serve shelter and does not keep a waiting list, O’ Leary said. Its capacity is 15 people.

It’s difficult to predict when Sparrow’s Nest will be at capacity, O’ Leary said. Attendance constantly fluctuates.

If people ask for help when the shelter is full, staff at Sparrow’s Nest will call GIFTS, House of Mercy, Twin Oaks in Walworth County or shelters in Rockford, Illinois, O’ Leary said.

MOVING FORWARD

Monica sees her time at House of Mercy as an opportunity for a new beginning, she said.

Residents meet regularly with a case manager who helps them make budgets, look for housing and plan the next phases of their lives, Anderson said.

In her short time at House of Mercy, Monica already knows she wants to volunteer at the shelter after she is out and on her own, she said.

Anderson said many former residents return to visit or volunteer.

One of Monica’s chores at the house is to clean the kitchen. On her way downstairs to prepare for chores, a young girl living at the shelter stopped and asked if she wanted to watch scary movies with her later.

Monica turned around and smiled.

“It’s like on big family,” she said.

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