Help for the Homeless in Eau Claire

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Now that those below-freezing temperatures are creeping into the area, it's probably time to start turning up your thermostat at home.

But what if you didn't have a place to call home in these chilly conditions?

About 3.5 million people in the U.S. are likely to experience homelessness in any given year.

That's according to the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty.

And Western Wisconsin is no exception to that statistic.

There are places where the homeless can get off the streets, and find a warm place to sleep here in Eau Claire.

We talked to a woman who's homelessness and recently found shelter.

"It's getting cold out there, and I have lived in my car before," said Cindy Mayer, who's living in the Ruth House shelter. " When it gets down there, you don't want to be found frozen."

Cindy Mayer says she nearly froze in her car a few years ago.

"When you're working and have a $7.00 an hour job, you don't have much left over to pay rent for yourself and for child support, for food, for visitation, and for gas," Mayer said.

Now she's living here at the Ruth House in Eau Claire.

It's one of a few resources available for the homeless, providing food, shelter, education and work opportunities for women.

The Hope Gospel Mission provides identical services for men.

The Beacon House provides food and shelter for families.

"It's a problem. And all you have to do is look just a little bit," said Eau Claire Police Officer Jack Corey. "You can find it, you can see it, it will surprise you and hopefully concern you."

With chilly temperatures moving in, living in a car or on the street police say it's not a risk the homeless can afford to take.

"Twenty degrees doesn't sound that severe when you put into context what our winters can typically be. But 20 degrees at night with nothing to break the wind or nothing to break the temperature is a dangerous thing."

Officer Corey reminds us it's easy to stereotype the homeless.

It could be anyone, and a lot of factors can lead to homelessness.

Last year, Hope Gospel Mission saw a 7 percent increase in the number of men looking for help.

At Ruth House, four people came in on just one day this week. The shelter director says she was surprised by that.