Damakant Jayshi

Wausau City officials deny that the city’s warming center refused shelter to the unhoused people due to overcapacity during the Christmas weekend.

Council President Becky McElhaney and Community Outreach Specialist Tracy Rieger categorically refuted allegations that people who sought shelter at The Warming Center were turned away. The warming center is run by Catholic Charities in Wausau.

During a discussion on homelessness iat the Wausau Public Health and Safety Committee on Monday, McElhaney asked Rieger to publicly comment on the reports.

Rieger said those reports are inaccurate, as the number of people served both at the Warming Center and Salvation Army were below capacity that weekend. She also spoke to rules regarding who can be denied shelter in such circumstances.

The outreach specialist, who worked at Catholic Charities before joining the city as its homeless liaison office, said the rules are behavior-based. But even those who are denied entry due to behavior – after three violations at the center – are allowed to entry when it is very cold, Rieger said. There are some people who to have difficulty adhering to rules at the warming center and choose to stay outside.

McElhaney said people should learn the truth about the warming center from Rieger since there is a lot of misinformation circulating.

In a meeting last week, McElhaney criticized her colleagues for finger-pointing and accusatory behavior and shamed them for their actions. But while McElhaney has publicly condemned some members, she has been silent on others. No statements have been made publicly about Dist. 7 Alder Lisa Rasmussen’s email exchanges with a local foundation board member that repeatedly slam Dist. 3 Alder Tom Kilian, suggesting he is not representing his district appropriately, while blasting efforts by a local advocacy group that aims to eradicate homelessness in the area. Those emails were obtained as part of a separate open records request.

On Monday, she said there is no magic wand to solve homelessness and said everyone should work together.

“It is a very charged situation,” McElhaney said. “There is nobody who doesn’t care who is on the council.”

Last week saw a debate on calling a meeting of the Committee of the Whole – as requested by two alders – to discuss the homelessness in the City of Wausau. A date for that meeting has not been set, though the council approved the request.

Homelessness and affordable housing have been major challenges in Wausau and Marathon County. In August, the body of a 74-year-old war veteran was discovered in a Rib Mountain field and in December, a woman who had an encampment beneath a downtown Wausau bridge also died.

Homeless figures sometimes duplicated’

On Monday Rieger said the actual number of unhoused residents in Wausau is likely lower than the 220 shown for December because there is duplication by agencies in reporting those numbers.

“As of today, organizations do not cross-reference names when coming up with their unduplicated count,” Rieger said, while sharing a monthly update of her work. “This means an unhoused individual may be part of more than one organization’s count, thereby inflating the true number of unhoused.”

On average, capacity at the shelters was at 91% percent for December. The Salvation Army reached 100 percent capacity on Dec. 9, while Catholic Charities was at or over their capacity a total of 14 days in the month of December, Rieger wrote.

Rieger said her most recent outreach resulted in four people being placed in housing.

“Year to date, 16 individuals have been assisted into stable housing and we are excited to report that 100% of those who have received housing remain housed at this time,” she said.

[For full details on the update, click here and go to page 69.]