La Crosse Warming Center provides shelter for homeless

By Cassidy Mayberry
Contributing Writer
According to National Public Radio, there are 6,000 people living in Wisconsin without permanent housing.
The city of La Crosse is attempt¬ing to keep some of them off the streets and warm at night. Located in the lower level of the First Bap¬tist Church, on the corner of West Ave. and Main St. is the La Crosse Warming Center. It’s comprised of a kitchen area, a tote room where the residents leave their belongings, a larger room with recliners where the guests relax and even an area up the stairs with a Wi-Fi hotspot and a computer.
The warming center’s mission, according to the Catholic Charities of the Diocese of La Crosse, is to “work with the greater La Crosse community to better serve those experiencing homelessness with dignity and respect by providing a safe and warm place” for people to get out of the cold in the winter months.
The service provides a safe and warm place for an overnight’s stay and a meal for the residents. It is available to 15 homeless adults 18 and over. Doors open for the guests at 9 p.m. each night, and they are allowed to stay until 7 a.m. This service is provided until March 31.
Beginning in November, the center provided 815 nights’ stays before the turn of the New Year.
Some Viterbo students have been involved in this program. The volunteers perform duties such as checking residents in, setting out the meal, keeping things in order, ensuring the safety of all guests and generally keeping the residents company.
When the night starts, the resi¬dents are given a number according to their place in line. Then, Emilio Alvarez, assistant director of Vit¬erbo’s Campus Ministry, recites the rules, such as verifying that all resi¬dents are of the proper age and they all agree to be calm and respectful. Then their belongings are placed into totes that match the residents’ numbers. After that, they get a hot meal and free time in the center.
Frequent volunteer Maria Deitel¬hoff, a sophomore nursing major, said she got involved because “when it started getting cold, I started to realize that me helping out one night a week was worth.”
Another frequent volunteer Amanda Mlsna, a senior nursing major, got started at the warming center last year when someone came to the San Damiano Chapel looking for people to help. She now helps Sunday nights in order for the Warming Center to “continue running this great service. I think volunteering is important, and it is good to give back to your com¬munity.”
Student volunteer Michael Churchill, another sophomore nurs¬ing major, stated his favorite part of the work done at the warming center: “My favorite thing about it is just the idea that homeless people can have a safe and warm place to stay on all the cold nights. They also get a warm meal, some of which is supplied by local restau¬rants which I think is awesome.”
One such local restaurant is Moka, which provides coffee and leftover doughnuts to the center. Churchill continued, “many of them are so grateful for the little bit they receive, which is very hum-bling. Seeing their gratefulness and knowing they are warm and fed is my favorite part.”
Deitelhoff said that she enjoys the interaction with the residents most, saying “they usually have some-thing entertaining, weird, strange, or really interesting to say.”
All of the student volunteers commented on the gratitude of the residents. Newcomer to the warm¬ing center, Courtney Meidenbauer, a sophomore nutrition and dietet¬ics major, was concerned about the reactions she would get before volunteering, but afterwards, she expressed shock at how positive the attitudes of the residents were.
The student volunteers also all expressed the powerful impact that the La Crosse Warming Center has had on the community as a whole.
Mlsna reported, “The impact of the warming center is so important and crucial to a community. Sal-vation Army only holds so many people…people need a warm place to stay. I think it is incredibly im-portant and something that should be looked at for expansion in order to better serve this population here in La Crosse.”

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