Milwaukee warming shelter opens for 1st time amid pandemic

With the cold moving in, a Milwaukee warming shelter opened Wednesday, Dec. 23 for the first time during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Those in need showed up to Repairers of the Breach looking for a place to sleep Wednesday night.

Doris Pigott hopes each candy cane will brighten up a dark night. She and other Repairers of the Breach employees were on hand to prepare for the shelter's first night open this winter.

"Just to help out, just to be happy. I just want the people to be happy." Pigott said.

Doris Pigott (center) and other workers at Repairers of the Breach in Milwaukee

Pigott knows firsthand what it is like to not know where you will be able to sleep.

"At one point in time, I didn’t know where to go. Me and my kids used to be out here," said Pigott.

Each winter, Repairers of the Breach opens every night that temperatures are expected to dip below 20 degrees. 2020 is no exception.

"We wanted to keep our word. 20 degrees, we’ll be open," said James West, executive director of Repairers of the Breach.

Repairers of the Breach in Milwaukee

But things are working differently in 2020. To keep people six feet apart, the center's capacity is now only 40 people -- less than half of what it used to be. Though there will be fewer people, it will take more resources to open.

"We have to open up other floors, which is going to mean additional staffing, additional COVID procedures for cleaning," West said. "It’s going to cost more money, put more effort, take more risks, but it’ll save lives."

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The hard year is why Pigott brought candy canes -- a way to show there is still help.

"It’s a blessing to come down here to help out with people like this," said Pigott. 

If the center hits capacity, Repairers of the Breach staff work with 211 to find everyone a place to spend the night.