A shelter from the cold is more than a warm bed or a hot meal. Sometimes warmth means more to a person than the heat itself.
Just ask Kenneth Bernoska, who has become a regular guest of the warming room at St. Benedict the Moor Parish in Milwaukee.
“(St. Ben’s) provides warmth and stability,” he said. “I haven’t found that other places.”
Bernkosa is one of dozens of homeless men, women and children who have been seeking more than just shelter under the caring watch of the volunteers at St. Benedicts. The recorded low temperature on Jan. 5, when he spoke of the power of warmth and stability, was zero degrees.
“It’s really about coming together at a time when this is really what our faith is all about,” said Brother Rob Roemer, executive director of Capuchin Community Services at St. Ben’s. “Helping others is what our faith has called us to do, so it’s been really neat to see people stepping up to help those who need it most.”
And in what has been one of the longest stretches of bitter cold Wisconsin has faced in recent years, Roemer said the warming room at St. Ben’s has definitely needed the extra help.
The room first opened for overnight guests Dec. 26, and has grown from 12 people that first night to as many as 70 in the nights to follow.
In addition to providing a warm place to stay the night, the St. Ben’s Community Meal site serves a hot, home-cooked meal from 5:15 to 6:30 p.m. six days a week. More than 100,000 meals are served each year. Other services are available, as well.
“We survive only thanks to the great generosity of people,” Roemer said. “I know it’s their faith that calls them out to help.”
Anyone looking to volunteer their time or make a donation of cash, warm clothes and accessories, or food, is encouraged to contact the parish at 414-271-0135 or visit them online at stbensmilwaukee.org.
St. Ben’s is one of several warming shelters that have opened their doors to Milwaukee’s homeless during the frigid cold stretch.
Elsewhere in Milwaukee at Repairers of the Breach, staff and volunteers are also seeing to it people do more than stay warm.
“Have we seen an increase in people coming in lately? Absolutely,” said Brian Brown, who cooks the meals provided by the organization. “We are so glad to have the opportunity to do our best for the community by helping people who need it.”
That has meant nearly round-the-clock efforts for staff and volunteers since the shelter added overnights as a result of the cold temperatures.
“I don’t want to see anyone out there in the cold with nowhere to turn,” Brown said. “It’s a challenge, but I don’t give up on that.”
The organization also provides clothes and other services to those in need, including help with employment, a learning center, and housing placement.
“The things we provide here are essential to life,” said Ralphael Gordon, center director. “Having a warm place to stay at night when I don’t even want to go to my car because it’s that cold? To think people are out there freezing, it’s the least we can do to offer them something warm to eat, a warm place to sleep, and even some fun things like having a movie to watch or games to play.”
The overnight center is open depending on the weather, but the daytime shelter opens daily at 7 a.m.
In addition to needing volunteers, winter items like canned soup, hats, mittens, and blankets are in high demand right now. For a full list of current needs, visit them online at repairers.org.
“No one should be in the elements that long with the winter as strong and cold as it has been,” Gordon said. “Our goal is really to provide a way, even when we’re not open overnight, for people to not have to be out in the cold as long.”