Wilson Park Senior Center opens for 1st time as overnight shelter for homeless

MILWAUKEE -- A big change takes place at the Wilson Park Senior Center on Tuesday evening, Dec. 17. For the first time, it will open its doors as an overnight shelter for the homeless.

FOX6 News first told you about this transformation last week. On Tuesday afternoon, finishing touches were being put on the plan to keep the homeless out of the cold. It comes just in time as temperatures plunge.

Wilson Park Senior Center, Milwaukee

"I think it's a good idea. As opposed to people sleeping out in the cold and freezing to death! They have to sleep someplace," said Jim Hinkle, who spends time at the center.

Wilson Park Senior Center, Milwaukee

The center will open from 7 p.m. until 7 a.m. -- and will offer a warm place for adult men and women to stay. The plan remains controversial for some seniors like Melody Ashland.

"Just putting them here -- there are a lot of complications. I think they have to have professionals around and they have to have safety -- major safety issues," Ashland said.

Wilson Park is a Milwaukee County building. Organizers tell FOX6 News professional staff will manage the overnight shelter. The county has wanted to repurpose the center during off-hours -- and only gained final approval a few days ago.

Wilson Park Senior Center, Milwaukee

County officials say seniors will hardly notice. The shelter will not impact senior services.

For groups like Street Angels Milwaukee Outreach, this is a significant victory. They have been bussing those in need to the shelter on the north side. Often, many were turned away because there was no room.

Eva Welch

"It's real easy to misunderstand a life that you`ve never lived," said Eva Welch, co-executive director of Street Angels. "They are our neighbors. They are already in that neighborhood. If we don't open these buildings, they are going to freeze to death."

The county previously told FOX6 News a shelter is badly needed on the south side -- and they hope this shelter will complement their shelters downtown and on the north side.