Severe Weather and the 400 Homeless Sleeping Outside

Posted December 18th, 2012 @ 8:40 AM by

I’d really like to see all 400 show up and test the alleged rules of the shelter systems that seem to be shifting and don’t seem to reflect reality. If we have a cooling shelter, why not a blizzard shelter? I’m really, really struggling to put together what I know from people on the street and what I am hearing from community services leaders. We’re still talking about two different perceptions of reality, but we’re getting closer and I call that progress.

THE WARNINGS
Yesterday, I got this email from Lynn Green:

This winter storm watch was sent out by Dane County Emergency Government. Please urge Token Creek campers to follow the weather closely and utilize the day and overnight shelter system this week given this forecast. Thanks!
Lynn :)

Lynn Green, Director
Dane County Dept. of Human Services

The attachment said:

…MAJOR WINTER STORM POSSIBLE WEDNESDAY NIGHT AND THURSDAY…

A MAJOR WINTER STORM IS EXPECTED TO TAKE SHAPE OVER THE PANHANDLE OF TEXAS ON WEDNESDAY AND TRACK NORTHEAST INTO THE GREAT LAKES REGION ON THURSDAY. THIS STORM HAS BEEN PROJECTED BY MANY OF OUR LONG RANGE COMPUTER MODELS FOR THE PAST SEVERAL DAYS. CONFIDENCE IS HIGH THAT THERE WILL BE A PARALYZING SNOW STORM IN THE WESTERN GREAT LAKES REGION WITH BLIZZARD OR NEAR BLIZZARD CONDITIONS POSSIBLE.

TYPICAL FOR A WINTER STORM THAT IS STILL A FEW DAYS AWAY…THERE IS PLENTY OF UNCERTAINTY ABOUT WHERE THAT HEAVY SNOW BAND WILL SET UP. HOWEVER…GIVEN THE VARIOUS COMPUTER MODEL SIMULATIONS AVAILABLE TO US…WE FEEL CONFIDENT ENOUGH TO ISSUE A WINTER STORM WATCH FOR A PORTION OF SOUTH CENTRAL AND SOUTHEAST WISCONSIN.

IT CAN/T BE STRESSED ENOUGH THAT GIVEN THE UNCERTAINTY…IT IS QUITE LIKELY THAT PORTIONS OF THIS WATCH AREA MAY BE TRIMMED OR COUNTIES ADDED AS THE EVENT DRAWS NEAR.

THE PERIOD OF HEAVIEST SNOW WILL LIKELY ARRIVE AFTER MIDNIGHT WEDNESDAY NIGHT AND CONTINUE THROUGH THE DAY ON THURSDAY…
DIMINISHING FROM WEST TO EAST IN THE AFTERNOON. STRONG NORTHWEST WINDS GUSTING TO AROUND 35 MPH BY THURSDAY AFTERNOON COULD CAUSE BLIZZARD OR NEAR BLIZZARD CONDITIONS.

IT APPEARS SOUTHEAST WISCONSIN WILL SEE TOO MUCH WARM AIR WRAP INTO THE AREA…AROUND THE INTENSE LOW…BRINGING THAT AREA A BLEND OF RAIN…RAIN/SNOW…WITH A TRANSITION TO ALL SNOW TOWARD THE END OF THE STORM.

WIZ046-047-051-056>058-062-063-067-180130-/O.NEW.KMKX.WS.A.0005.121220T0000Z-121221T0000Z/
MARQUETTE-GREEN LAKE-FOND DU LAC-SAUK-COLUMBIA-DODGE-IOWA-DANE-LAFAYETTE-
INCLUDING THE CITIES OF…MONTELLO…BERLIN…FOND DU LAC…BARABOO…PORTAGE…WISCONSIN DELLS…BEAVER DAM…DODGEVILLE…MADISON…DARLINGTON
1118 AM CST MON DEC 17 2012

…WINTER STORM WATCH IN EFFECT FROM WEDNESDAY EVENING THROUGH THURSDAY AFTERNOON…

THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN MILWAUKEE/SULLIVAN HAS ISSUED A WINTER STORM WATCH…WHICH IS IN EFFECT FROM WEDNESDAY EVENING THROUGH THURSDAY AFTERNOON.

* TIMING…SNOW BEGINS WEDNESDAY EVENING AND DIMINISHES THURSDAY AFTERNOON.

* SNOW ACCUMULATIONS…7 TO 11 INCHES WITH LOCALLY HIGHER AMOUNTS POSSIBLE.

* WINDS…BECOMING NORTHWEST 15 TO 25 MPH ON THURSDAY WITH GUSTS TO 35 MPH POSSIBLE.

* IMPACTS…HEAVY SNOW WOULD CAUSE RAPIDLY DETERIORATING TRAVEL CONDITIONS. SOME THUNDER SNOW IS POSSIBLE. THE STRONG NORTHWEST WINDS WOULD CAUSE CONSIDERABLE BLOWING AND DRIFTING SNOW WITH POTENTIAL WHITE-OUT CONDITIONS.

PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS…

A WINTER STORM WATCH MEANS THERE IS A POTENTIAL FOR SIGNIFICANT SNOW…SLEET…OR ICE ACCUMULATIONS THAT MAY IMPACT TRAVEL.
CONTINUE TO MONITOR THE LATEST FORECASTS.

And I got this email from one of the outreach workers:

Hello Brenda,

I take blizzards/inclement weather very seriously. Starting Wednesday afternoon through all day Thursday the National Weather Service has issued a severe winter storm warning for the western Great Lakes region . Up to 10 inches of snow with 35 miles per hour winds are expected. In a word: Blizzard.

Direct National Weather Service quote: “Confidence is high that there will be a paralyzing snow storm in the Western Great Lakes region with blizzard or near blizzard conditions possible.”

Please do anything you can to get Occupy campers INSIDE. I do not care about anybody’s opinion of shelters. Just convince them to go INSIDE.

Call me at xxx-xxxx.

INSIDE!

I’m not sure why they are telling me this – I guess I’m the ringleader according to them, but if they understood ANYTHING about Occupy, they would know that I can’t tell anyone to do anything. And their insistence on naming me “the leader” has earned me the honor of being called the “puppet master” at camp. It’s become a running joke. They fail to recognize that all decisions made at camp are made by the people who live there and I don’t even have a vote.

SOLUTION FOR TOKEN CREEK
We did find a private solution for (now about 30) people at Token Creek if they choose to use it, and arranged for people with vehicles to be there with some campers to protect the camp from snow damage during the storm. We didn’t need the above warnings to make that happen tho, we had a solution by early afternoon yesterday on our own.

WHAT ABOUT EVERYONE ELSE?
Heidi Wegleitner sent this email yesterday:

From: Heidi Wegleitner
Date: December 17, 2012, 1:27:41 PM CST
To: “mayor@cityofmadison.com” , Joseph Parisi
Cc: “allalders@cityofmadison.com” , “county_board_recipients@co.dane.wi.us” , Green@countyofdane.com, Michael Basford , Jeffrey Kostelic
Subject: Unsheltered and Facing a Winter Storm

Good afternoon Mayor Soglin and County Executive Parisi,

As you may be aware, there are an estimated 400 people living unsheltered in the Madison area. These folks are unable or unwilling to access shelter for the following reasons.

1) They are a family or single woman and they have reached their shelter limit. There are no cold weather exceptions for single women or families in shelter. (Based on handout provided by Tim Saterfield Dane, County Human Services, Homeless Issues Committee staff).
2) They suffer from a mental illness (e.g., P.T.S.D., anxiety), the symptoms of which are exacerbated by the shelter environment
3) They have been banned for alleged behavioral infractions.
4) They have had negative shelter experiences in the past and would rather sleep on the street than in shelter.

Recently, some of these unsheltered folks have been staying at Token Creek Campground, but hundreds more stay in their cars, under bridges, in doorways, and in wooded areas in pockets around town. Due to the pending winter storm watch, folks at Token Creek have been encouraged to stay in the shelter, but the reality is that many cannot access shelter for the reasons stated above.

This email is to request your assistance in securing a safe spot for unsheltered folks during the upcoming storm by: (1) ensuring access to shelter regardless of stay limits or behavior-based bans, (2) opening up a building on a temporary, emergency basis, and (3) providing motel vouchers for folks who are unable to stay in shelter due to their mental health issues. I am open to other ideas as well.

The Dane County Human Services Board is currently working on a housing plan to implement Res. 292, 11-12, Dane County Recognizes Housing as a Human Right. One of the primary goals of the housing plan is to ensure no one is denied access to shelter. Unfortunately, we are a long way from that goal today. The least we can do, this week, is to ensure that folks have a safe place to be during upcoming severe weather. This is consistent with prior practice of opening up cooling centers during periods of extreme heat.

Thank you for your attention to this urgent situation. If I can be of any further assistance in this effort, please let me know.

Heidi Wegleitner
Dane County Supervisor, District 2

Good point! If we have warming and cooling centers, why not an inclement weather shelter? We did it this summer in the hot weather, why not in a blizzard?

She also followed up with this:

Attached please find the handout I referred to in my previous email. While I heard there may also be a cold weather exception for single women, it is not included in the attached policy handout. Moreover, the cold weather exception for single men applies to weather below 20 degrees and other nights when weather is particularly inclement. I am assuming that if the upcoming conditions are as forecasted, the winter weather exception for men staying at Porchlight would be in effect, but it would be good to have this confirmed for them as well as single women seeking shelter.

Assuming the above info related to winter weather exceptions for single women and men to be true, my concerns regarding families, banned persons, and folks unable to access shelter because of illness, remain unaddressed.

Thanks for your consideration,

Heidi

PROMISES, PROMISES
The spin on the shelter system coming out as a result of this new found concern is somewhat amusing, and as I said above, I would love to see people test their words. Here’s a few excerpts of what I have been told.

I have checked on the men’s sheltering system. I have been told that for intoxication and number of nights, they waive those requirements if the temperature, including wind chill, is 20 degrees or below and for other inclement weather such as the upcoming winter storm. Note the nights still counts, but they just don’t care how many nights the person has stayed. I guess they have been doing this for a long time. I am working on the banned question; it appears that it may be contingent on the reason for the ban. It would be very difficult to control major disruptive behavior, especially if the shelter is crowded due to the weather.

I have checked with the women’s sheltering system. They indicate that similar to Porchlight, on nights that are or will be 20 degrees or colder, they do not deny single women. Even if a woman has already used her 60 annual nights of shelter, she will be allowed to stay. They do not place a capacity on the number of women that are allowed in on cold weather nights. There has never been a capacity problem; they usually don’t exceed 30 women. In terms of banned women, they are unaware of who that would be.

And here is an official response to Heidi’s request:

Supervisor Wegleitner -
A few points of clarification and further information:

There are winter weather exceptions made at all the shelters (men, women and families) for people who have utilized all their shelter days when the weather is predicted to be 20 degrees or below or for other severe winter weather conditions are forecasted. This exception also applies to people who are banned, if their behavior does not pose a life threatening situation for others in the shelters.
There are no capacity issues for single men and women. Due to spacial constraints, there may be capacity issues for families. We are hoping the faith based community will assist if needed. There is a meeting Wednesday morning to work on this.
Dane County staff have been working all day to alert the unhoused community of the impending winter weather predictions for this week. We are posting notices at the day shelters and talking to guests to encourage them to utilize the overnight shelters. Dane County Parks staff are posting alerts and sheltering information at the Token Creek campground, and I have also been in contact with advocates to encourage campers to utilize overnight shelters this week for their safety.
We have in the past and will continue to work individually with unhoused single people and families to accommodate exceptional circumstances.

If you have further questions or concerns about the sheltering status given this week’s weather predictions or any other issues in the future regarding sheltering, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Lynn :)

I almost blew diet coke out of my nose reading this – but instead of me responding, I’m asking homeless people and their advocates to respond to the above info and I will post their responses tomorrow. The biggest one I had problem with is that the women’s shelter went to a lottery system this summer and 8 – 10 women got turned away some nights. The other one is why are they waiting to Wednesday morning to talk to the churches, why haven’t they planned for this, its not like bad weather in Wisconsin was not expected this winter.

Here is the handout Weglietner is referring to:

Shelter Limits and Exceptions
Salvation Army
Target population: families and single women

Single Women
- Initially approved for thirty days, plus an additional thirty day extension based on merit. Homeless individuals and households may be eligible for a subsequent stay up to sixty days every twelve months. In rare exceptions, sixty day stays may be extended longer for specific reasons

Families
- Family use of COUNTY funded shelter will be limited to a maximum of (three) 30 day periods. These stays may be separate incidents or may be consecutive, however an extension beyond the initial 30 day period will be merit based with final approval of such extensions resting with the COUNTY.

A family may be eligible for subsequent stays in the shelter as follows:
a. Subsequent stay may not occur earlier than one year from the start date of the initial stay
b. Subsequent stays may not exceed ninety days
c. Requests for subsequent stays are not given first priority, they are given lowest priority

- Determination of merit for extension will be based on:
a. Cooperation in the completion of a written plan for obtaining housing within seven days of entering shelter;
b. Compliance with all action steps in the written housing plan;
c. Attending scheduled meetings (at least weekly) with the case manager; and
d. Cooperation with Wisconsin Works (W-2), FoodShare Employment and Training (FSET) services and the Child Support enforcement requirements of the W-2 program

In rare exceptions, ninety-day stays may be extended longer for reasons such as:
a. The family is very close to securing permanent housing,
b. The family is very close to securing employment, or
c. The family is very close to leaving town, and
d. Shelter approves/documents.

YWCA (referred by Salvation Army)
Target population: Families

- maximum of three thirty-day periods. These stays may be separate incidents or may be consecutive, however an extension beyond the initial thirty-day period will be merit based with final approval of such extensions resting with the COUNTY.

A family may be eligible for subsequent stays in the shelter as follows:
a. Subsequent stay many not occur earlier than one year from the start date of the initial stay,
b. Subsequent stays may not exceed ninety days, and
c. Requests for subsequent stays are not given first priority, they are given lowest priority

Determination of merit for extension will be based on:

1. Cooperation in the completion of a written plan for obtaining housing within seven days of entering shelter;
2. Compliance with all action steps in the written housing plan;
3. Attending scheduled meetings (minimum weekly) with the case manager; and
4. Cooperation with Wisconsin Works (W-2), Food Share Employment and Training (FSET) services and the Child Support enforcement requirements of the W-2 program.

In rare exceptions, ninety-day stays may be extended longer for reason such as:
a. The family is very close to securing permanent housing,
b. The family is very close to securing employment, or
c. The family is very close to leaving town, and
d. Shelter approves/documents

Porchlight
Target population: men over age 18

- Guests are limited to 60 days of shelter in a year, beginning November through October 31. There is a weather exception for nights when the temperature is expected to be below 20 degrees F (taking into account wind chill), and other nights when weather is particularly inclement (i.e. stormy & snowy). Also, guests may receive extensions on the 60 day limit if they demonstrate progress toward obtaining housing and employment.

More to come, I’m sure.


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