Local shelter at max capacity as freezing weather approaches

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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) – In the coming days, record freezing temperatures are expected in the Chippewa Valley and it's cause for concern as the cold weather is filling up local homeless shelters to max capacity.

Meteorologists forecasted frigid conditions next week, as temperatures struggle to make it to zero.

At the Sojourner House downtown, they’re at max capacity, at times having to turn people away. It’s something they see happen during the hottest months in the summer and coldest months in the winter.

People in line, hoping to get into Sojourner House say they’re hoping for the best as the Mother Nature brings a blast of arctic conditions.

“I just had a little bit of bad luck financially and didn't do as well. It’s pretty much all up to me from here. So I go out here (to Sojourner House). I don’t take advantage of it. Eventually I’ll be back so this is something I have to endure,” said Rob Claus who traveled from La Crosse to Menomonie and now to Eau Claire.

Claus said he’s hoping to get back on his feet as he searches for a job.

For Nicole Liberty, just 19-years-old, her travels started in Madison.

“I was actually down visiting a friend and I met my real mother for the first time,” said Liberty who hadn’t seen her mother for 15 years. Since then, she lost connection with her mom and is no longer able to stay at her grandparents. “Some problems occurred…and I ended up coming down here which is really hard because when you're 19, it’s not something you expect to happen.”

Liberty said she hopes to enroll at a local technical college and hopefully go onto school to be a trauma doctor.

As hundreds of people in the area struggle to get back on track, there’s a problem straddling the line between warmth and life-threatening cold.

“We’re pretty packed now. We are at full capacity,” said Dan Robinson, director of the Sojourner House.

And at full capacity, filling all 40 beds, Robinson said there’s always a chance to turn people away.

“Yes, we have had to turn people away,” said Robinson. “It makes me nervous because we're only going to be able to do what we can do.”

And it's times like these, Robinson said, there’s a need for extra help.

“It would be really nice if during the winter months, between now and say March, there was a building, a church, an organization that would open their doors to just house people for overnight. They wouldn't have to feed them, they wouldn't have to wash their clothes, and they’d just have to setup cots,” said Robinson.

Robinson added the people can then come back to Sojourner House in the morning to have breakfast and shower.

“We haven't really had anybody really say they're really interested,” said Robinson.

Some who are staying at the shelter say they have their own plan.

“I'll have to acclimate and just hope for a place,” said Claus.

“Anyone out there who doesn't have a place to go, go to someone you know that’s close that you can trust and find a way to get somewhere warm because it really is cold,” suggested Liberty.

“There’s still people that are still staying in their cars, in abandoned buildings and they eventually come here or move to a different city,” said Robinson.

There are several homeless shelters in Eau Claire including Hope Gospel Mission, Beacon House and Ruth House.

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