SHEBOYGAN — Those seeking shelter in Sheboygan County will now have a new, warm place to go.
On Jan. 4, the Sheboygan County Warming Center opened the doors to their new location in the lower church hall of St. Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church, 828 New Jersey Ave., Sheboygan. The center was previously housed at the Salvation Army.
The program, which offers free shelter and food for those in need, was started when community member Ken Rishel saw advertisements for warming centers in other communities. Upon doing some research, he realized there was nothing of the sort here in Sheboygan County.
"I don't think anybody should be left out in the cold," he said. "I think sometimes smaller or medium sized cities like Sheboygan or Sheboygan Falls or Plymouth put blinders on that there isn't a need, (homelessness) doesn't happen in our small town. But, if you drive down the city streets, you'll notice people walking around with a lot of bags or suitcases. If you don't open your eyes and look at it, you'll go right past it and put those blinders on. That can't happen."
Rishel partnered with other people at his church, other community members and Daryl Mangera, from the Salvation Army to bring the Warming Center to the county five years ago.
The center is currently open from 7 p.m. to 7:30 a.m. Mondays through Thursdays in January and February. Members of the public will be able to check in between 7 and 7:45 p.m. During COVID-19, guests will be screened for symptoms before entering.
"Guests will have about a 45-minute period to get into our facility, and then after 7:45 p.m., they'll need to be brought in by some type of law enforcement or other officer to get in," Rishel explained. "We want to be able to limit capacity right now and we don't want it to be open all hours with people coming in and out. We want them to be here and be safe for the night."
Once they're checked in, guests will be assigned a cot and linens and receive a warm meal. They will be woken up at 6:45 a.m. and given breakfast, clearing out in time for the church offices to open. Staff will then sanitize all items and common areas for the next evening.
"We do have the church's custodian doing some advanced cleaning right now to make sure all the precautions are taken to make everything safe at night," Rishel said. "We are also getting the guests involved in doing that. What we're telling them is we're not their mother or their father, we are other adults trying to offer this service so they'll need to get involved to help with that on a daily basis as well."
Traffic for this year's center has been slow due to the location change and COVID-19, but in years prior, the Warming Center has had as many as 23 guests. While COVID-19 is ongoing, the capacity is set to 20.
"As you can see, the need is there. There are people out there that do require this service and with everything going on right now with people losing their jobs, we don't really know what to expect this year," Risehl explained.
This year, the center is down nearly half to he volunteers it usually sees due to ongoing COVID concerns. However, regardless of the circumstances, volunteers are always needed.
Those looking to get involved or volunteer should visit the Warming Center's website to complete the online application. Monetary donations can also be made online.
Additionally, the center is also always in need of donated items. To avoid access going to waste, they do have a "wish list" of items, which can be found on their Facebook page.