Cooling Center brings relief from the heat in Eau Claire

Published: Jul. 20, 2022 at 9:37 PM CDT
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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) -With the streak of warm weather continuing, one group in the Chippewa Valley is making sure all community members have a place to get out of the heat.

During the winter time, the Warming Center on Farwell Street in Eau Claire provided a space for unhoused community members to get warm. Now it’s shifted its focus to work as a Cooling Center with plans to continue to serve the community however it can.

On Sundays, Eau Claire’s city buses aren’t running and throughout the week, the downtown shelter isn’t open until 7 p.m. making it harder for unhoused community members to get out of the weather elements.

“A number of concerned citizens in our community got together and said we need a facility where people can go to for nothing more than life saving kinds of opportunities so warmth especially during the cold winter months,” said Tom Wirth, the coordinator for the Warming/Cooling Center.

During the winter, Wirth said the center helped around 30-45 people every week.

Now, it’s a place to get some relief from the heat.

“We understand totally the need to have a warming center in the winter, but people who are outside all day long experience a lot of stress from the extreme heat that can occur in the Eau Claire summers,” said Joshua Miller, an Eau Claire City Council At-Large Member.

Last week, Eau Claire’s city council voted to allot some of its American Rescue Plan funding to it.

“The initial amount was $38,000 which at a cost of $2,000 a day budgeted--it might be less than that, but it was budgeted $2,000 a day--and that would have given 16 days,” Miller said. “My amendment proposed to have enough that would cover the full all the Sundays and the 5-6 weeks the library would be closed for around $85,000 total funding.”

Miller said if those additional $47,000 aren’t used this summer, they’ll go back to the city for other projects.

For the center, those dollars help pay for rent, electricity and food. It also helps pay for staff members which the center is looking to hire more of.

With ARPA funding, Wirth said the hope is to open the center seven days a week starting in November.

“It has been all along a community effort to get this facility up and running, and it will continue to be a community effort,” Wirth said. “As I said, one leg of the stool is in place with the funding, and that’s a huge hurdle to have overcome but now we really need the community support to keep it up and running.”

For Wirth and Miller, the center is a way for community members to look out for one another.

Volunteers can help with a variety of tasks from serving coffee to talking with unhoused community members. If you would like to volunteer, click HERE.

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