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Work continues to address homeless issue

Y eyed as potential location for those in need

Dec. 22, 2010

City of Oconomowoc — Community leaders are working to put into effect measures that would help those who have been left homeless.

The Rev. Stephen Welch, pastor of the First Congregational United Church of Christ, said a meeting last week with representatives from civic organizations, social agencies and local churches opened discussion into options to meet the needs.

"It's still up in the air. Progress is being made to address the issue. Members of the Chamber of Commerce and representatives from the City of Oconomowoc and YMCA at Pabst Farms, churches and service organizations are all moving forward. I can't tell you what it will look like or when; so far all we have is the response of several organizations," he said.

City Administrator Diane Gard said staff is working with the chamber on the issue in its preliminary stages. "We have staff working with the parties involved and will stay close to the issue," she said.

One avenue being explored is using the YMCA at Pabst Farms.

"That's our goal, but there are some steps we still need to take," Welch said.

"I hope within a few days others will step forward with a finished plan we can implement," he added.

In an e-mail inviting community leaders to the initial meeting last week, Welch and Mary Peschel of the Community Action Coalition (CAC) noted "there are singles and families living in their cars. In our community."

Peschel said that in this slumping economy, people are falling behind on their rent and need to "couch hop" with friends and relatives, or may use their vehicles as a stop-gap measure.

However, City of Oconomowoc Police Chief Dave Beguhn said his department has not seen evidence of that in the city.

"I asked two shifts, and they haven't seen a single person sleeping in cars," he said.

With both the Oconomowoc Food Pantry and the Oconomowoc Area Free Clinic seeing increased demands for its services, it demonstrates the needs that exist within the community.

Bruce Osborn, director of spiritual development at the YMCA at Pabst Farms, said the organization would welcome the opportunity to help by offering shelter.

"The YMCA is a Christian organization, and this certainly fits right in line with meeting the needs of the community in Christ's name and doing what we can to spread that message and give them hope at a time when they don't have much," Osborn explained.

"These are hurting families that need to know someone cares about them," he added.

Osborn said that if they are able to move forward with that idea, the Y could conceivably handle 12-15 people. Initial considerations are that the space would be limited to the west end of the building where a community room is set up with a small kitchen and access to a family locker room.

The room could be divided, allowing for sleeping quarters to be separated by gender, he explained.

Preliminarily, thoughts are that the additional staffing necessary would be provided by staff and volunteers, and hours of operation would be separate for overnight guests, allowing for setup, cleanup and takedown of the sleeping accommodations.

Also on Tuesday Pat Ornberg Executive Director of the Oconomowoc Area Chamber of Commerce announced that an Urgent Community Needs Fund has been established with First Bank Financial Centre. In a release Ornberg urges the community to drop off donations at any of the First Bank locations: 155 W. Wisconsin Ave., W359 N5900 Brown St. and 1300 Summit Ave. Suite 100.

Osborn said that the CAC would likely take the lead in referring people in need of shelter, but details on how that would be handled have not been made public yet.

The action committee is expected to release information related to the issue within the next several days.

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