Western Dairyland Community Action Agency operates seven homeless shelters in Buffalo, Eau Claire, Jackson and Trempealeau counties for families with children. Our shelters are single-family units which may be occupied for 31 to 60 days; each shelter is a completely furnished apartment with bedding, furniture, cooking utensils and cleaning supplies donated by the community. Our shelters are located in safe locations, and every effort is made to maintain the privacy of the families staying there. Family members are referred to other Western Dairyland resources and community organizations for additional help.
Our first priority is to provide a safe place to stay for homeless families with children. During their stay, we do everything we can to locate permanent housing and help them on their way to self-sufficiency.
During 2012, Western Dairyland’s homeless shelters provided shelter for 193 people, but turned away 880 due to lack of space. It’s a pattern that has been repeated year after year; there are not enough homeless shelters available in our service area.
Despite this, homelessness continues to be an invisible problem in Western Wisconsin, with many citizens being unaware of its presence and severity. In an attempt to increase awareness, Western Dairyland has been forging community partnerships with local businesses, churches, and community organizations. In addition to increasing awareness, these partnerships are also benefiting our clients in unique ways. Some examples:
- In May of 2013, a local greenhouse donated a Mother’s Day plant to every mom staying in a Western Dairyland shelter. This small donation brightened the day for seven moms, and the resulting news coverage from television stations and social media outlets highlighted the struggles of homeless families, specifically single parents.
- Four days before Halloween this year, a local restaurant offered to hold a small fundraiser to buy Halloween costumes for children staying in our homeless shelters. Despite the lateness of the fundraiser, several children were able to get new costumes (exactly the ones they wanted) and were able to join their neighbors and classmates for trick-or-treating. The same restaurant will be holding another fundraiser in late November to spread the word and raise money for our homeless shelters. Social media coverage of both events has reached thousands of community members in Eau Claire County.
- Each December, local businesses and community groups “adopt” our homeless families for the holidays. Parents and children in our shelters receive gifts, while local businesses make a connection with our clients, learn about Western Dairyland services, and create relationship with our organization that often recur year after year.
While the donations and the time invested in these projects are usually minimal, the impact on our clients is immeasurable. As these stories get told and more community members become involved, the issue of homelessness comes to the forefront—with the goal of sustainable solutions to homelessness in Western Wisconsin.
Anyone wishing for more information should contact Anna Cardarella, Executive Director of Western Dairyland, at firstname.lastname@example.org.