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For more information, call Deb Weber at 728-6280 or the Walworth County Emergency Shelter at (262) 903-9276

The end of homelessness begins here

--- For those it serves, the Walworth County Emergency Shelter is the first step in getting back on their feet

Donna Lenz Wright/The Week

(Published Oct. 4, 2007, 3:39 p.m.)

'He takes such good care of his father.'

They had an apartment in Whitewater when the 67-year-old father with emphysema and his developmentally disabled adult son lost their home.

The medical bills had piled up and rent got behind. One month. Then two months. Then an eviction notice.

They had nowhere to go when they heard of the church serving as the Walworth County Emergency Shelter (WCES) site for the week.

"He took such good care of his father," a volunteer said.

They thanked the shelter volunteers over and over for giving them a warm place to sleep during those cold winter months.

'In the flick of a light, I was homeless.'

He was driving down the road and saw the police lights in his rear view mirror.

A taillight was out.

The self-employed carpenter/

plumber/electrician's entire livelihood was in his truck. When the police officer ran his license they saw his child support was behind.

He was put into jail and his truck was impounded. He was sentenced to the Huber facility until he could pay his back child support.

But without his truck he couldn't work. Without work he couldn't pay his child support or rent.

By the time he served his jail time, he was homeless, unemployed--and diagnosed with cancer.

He found himself sleeping in the basement of a Walworth County church through the Walworth County Emergency Shelter.

'They'd lived all of their lives in that house.'

The retired couple had lived in the same home for decades. They worked hard, raised their family and took great pride in their home.

As they got on in years, their medical bills increased and their income decreased. Home maintenance jobs fell through the cracks.

After running errands one day just before Christmas, they returned home to find a lock on their door and a notice that their home had been condemned until all of the repairs could be made.

They had no money to make the repairs.

They slept that night, and several more, in an the Walworth County Emergency Shelter.

'He was a genius.'

Before the car crash left him with a head injury and seizure disorder, he was an engineer, had a wife, children and

owned his own home.

"He was a genius," said his nephew. "He had multiple degrees and traveled the world with his job."

Slowly it fell apart as the aftereffects of his head injury took its toll first on his job, then marriage and family, then home.

He stayed with family members until they could no longer tolerate his medication issues and mental unpredictability--common with head injuries.

He ended up at the WCES tent city last summer.

'An unstable home'

Growing up, his home wasn't impossible, but it was far from ideal. Its stability varied. He learned to cope until his late teens.

As a young adult he was on his own to figure out the world, crash-course style, many times living from friend's couch to friend's couch.

Although he doesn't consider this being homeless, many others would beg to differ.


These are not the stories of people in urban places over the border. They are our own neighbors in nice, friendly, rural Walworth County.

They--and many others--found themselves on the doorsteps of the Walworth County Emergency Shelter (WCES) sometime during the past two years.

The Walworth County Emergency Shelter is not a fine-tuned homeless shelter with a predictable budget, staff and permanent location. Far from it.

It's a few plastic bins filled with inflatable cots and well-worn blankets with no budget or staff. Its location moves each week to wherever they are allowed.

For the past two years it's been staffed and located at a rotation of seven area churches with additional help from a handful of other congregations and individual volunteers.

It serves people who are not people trying to get something for nothing or asking for a permanent crutch. They are neighbors who just need a temporary helping hand when life throws them a curve ball.

While facilities like Twin Oaks Homeless Shelter and Community Action satisfy much of the need, these are the stories of the spillovers or those who need help after those resources are all tapped out.

Now beginning its third winter, The Walworth County Emergency Shelter is struggling as much as ever to keep people from freezing to death for lack of a warm place to sleep.

Their pleas for help have gone greatly unanswered. Neighbors to the sites have protested. Police have been stuck in the middle. And county officials seem unable to find answers or funds to help.

"I wish we could get people to just come in and meet them because they're just people," said Deb Weber, secretary and volunteer for Christ Episcopal Church in Delavan, First Baptist Church in Delavan and Walworth County Emergency Shelter.

"I just wish we could get rid of the stereotype of 'those people.' They are just people.

"I could cry when I think about it," Weber says.

Weber is actually much more than her title suggests. She has been Father Bill Myrick's (Christ Episcopal Church) right hand since the first day of Walworth County Emergency Shelter. And she goes the extra mile after hours too.

"I bring my boys down (to the shelter) to make homemade pizza on Fridays when we have it at the Methodist Church," she said.

"(They) have said how they were grateful to have the opportunity to eat in a family setting because they miss having the opportunity with their own family."

The Walworth County Emergency Shelter continues to just barely stay in existence because of lack of volunteer individuals and locations.

If they could reach people willing to serve as shelter aides or prepare meals even once or a few times a month it would make a great difference.

And if they could reach folks with churches or buildings to house the shelter at one-week intervals it would make the difference between life and death--really.

Many area people and businesses have been helping all along, including the Sun Mist Café, Panera Bread, Super 8 Hotel in Delavan and many more contribute food and rooms. But so much more is needed.

During just the first week of this season last month six people slept on their cots.

"I wish people would remember that they are human beings who have the same hopes and needs as we do," Weber said.

"If we lose the shelter, someone is going to end up freezing to death on the streets of Delavan," added Dustin Jenks.

Jenks himself was a Walworth County Emergency Shelter resident for 16 days last year and knows the true situation as well as--or better than--anyone.

He had come to town for a job with a friend. A room came with the job and he was set, or so he thought. The job started out smoothly and his room was more than sufficient.

But a disagreement led to his employer getting physically violent and all at once he was out of a job and a home, in a city where he knew nobody.

Because of the Walworth County Emergency Shelter and its resource referrals, he's been working ever since, has had his own home for over a year and volunteers extensively with Walworth County Emergency Shelter and Community Action, Inc.

Postscript:

--- The father and son got an apartment last November and remain there today after staying at the shelter off and on for a couple of months.

--- The man behind on his child support is working, but actually back in the shelter because he couldn't get treatment for his cancer without reliable transportation.

"He slept the month of August in an abandoned building with a leaky roof. It was all moldy in there, so he was breathing in all that mold," Weber said. 

"He's hoping nothing has grown in the interval. Me too."

--- The retired couple moved to Florida where they still live today.

--- The man with the head injury and seizure disorder found a job and a place to live, but it didn't last.

"The last we heard he was in Milwaukee," said his nephew. "We worry about him every day-if he's dead or alive."

--- The man with the unstable home has a full-time job, his own home and volunteers with Walworth County Emergency Shelter.

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