Milwaukee Rescue Mission employee, former resident dies from COVID-19: 'A beautiful guy'

MILWAUKEE -- Dozens of guests and employees at a Milwaukee shelter have tested positive for COVID-19. Sadly, one staff member recently died.

Billy Ross

Once a resident at the Milwaukee Rescue Mission more than a dozen years ago, Billy Ross turned his life around and ended up working at the facility, mentoring others. The 53-year-old touched many lives after transforming his own.

A beacon of hope for countless people, the Mission has shelter programs for men, women and children -- but its open-door policy had to change because of the coronavirus pandemic.

"A number of us have gotten the virus," said Patrick Vanderburgh, president of the Milwaukee Rescue Mission. "I've had it a little over a week."

Patrick Vanderburgh

While Vanderburgh is suffering from a fever, coughs and aches, some others working at the facility have had more severe symptoms -- some even being hospitalized.

"As you can imagine in a shelter that is serving hundreds of people, trying to create social distance in a real challenge," Vanderburgh said. "We've been trying to spread people out as best we can, we've gotten a lot of help from the health department."

Vanderburgh says the facility has reduced the number of residents by at least 50% and tested pretty much all of its frontline staff.

Milwaukee Rescue Mission

"Probably over 20 of our staff tested positive, many with symptoms but a number were asymptomatic," he said.

But Billy Ross was one who the disease hit hard.

Billy Ross

"He is bitterly missed by us. He was such a beautiful guy and had just such a great impact," said Vanderburgh. "He had such an infectious smile, had such an engaging personality. He is kind of the epitome of what Milwaukee Rescue Mission aspires to be."

Ross' memory is cherished at the mission and also by his family. FOX6 News spoke with loved ones who said they are comforted by all of the joy, hope and memories Ross left behind.

As for folks at the Milwaukee Rescue Mission, as they fight against COVID-19, there are ways you can help with urgent needs. CLICK HERE for more information on how to do so.