Cold with the potential to seriously injure or kill is gripping southern Wisconsin.
The most vulnerable are those with no shelter, or shelter with no heat.
All the homeless shelters in the area are full, operators said Wednesday. But there are a few places to go.
Most towns have public libraries and other facilities that are open to the public during the day. The big question is what to do when temperatures drop and buildings close for the night.
Temperatures as low as minus 10 and wind chills as low as 25 below zero are expected in southern Wisconsin this week, according to a news release from the Rock County Sheriff’s Office.
“All we can recommend is the other shelters, and as you know, they’re full, too," said Ron O’Leary of The Sparrow’s Nest shelter in Beloit.
“Resources are very limited. Just keeping the building open is a struggle,” O’Leary said.
Also full Wednesday were the GIFTS Men’s Shelter and House of Mercy in Janesville and Twin Oaks Shelter for the Homeless in Darien.
A first choice might be hotel vouchers. Janesville’s ECHO charity has limited numbers of those available, said ECHO Associate Director Jessica Locher.
“If people are in need, they can give us a call, and we will see what we can do," Locher said. "We don’t want people out on these nights when it’s cold like this.”
But ECHO doesn’t know from day to day how many vouchers will be available, she said.
ECHO had four vouchers available Wednesday, and three people were applying for those when The Gazette called.
Only one voucher was available Friday. The number depends on the availability of rooms at local hotels such as the Lannon Stone and Motel 6 in Janesville, Locher said.
People are spending more time in these hotels because of a housing shortage, which leaves fewer rooms available, Locher said.
More expensive hotels have rooms, but ECHO can’t afford those, she said.
Family Promises, a faith-based organization in the Beloit area, also gives vouchers, Locher said.
Janesville police also give out vouchers, but it would help if people turned to ECHO, the Salvation Army or other agencies before they close for the day, said Sgt. Dean Sukus.
The only drop-in night shelters with room in Rock County appear to be the emergency departments at Janesville’s two hospitals, Mercyhealth and SSM Health St. Mary’s.
Both hospitals are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. as warming shelters, and their emergency departments are open from 8 p.m. to 7 a.m., according to a list distributed Wednesday by the Rock County Sheriff’s Office.
The only other 24-hour warming space on the sheriff's office list is the Brodhead Police Department lobby.
The sheriff’s office recommends calling 211 for information about resources specific to each area.
The release also warns about the potential for headaches, fatigue, dizziness, shortness of breath, chest pain, vomiting, confusion and ultimately death from carbon monoxide poisoning, which is possible from heating systems or water heaters.
Anyone with those symptoms should call 911 and go to a neighbor’s home or nearby business, the release states.
“Make sure you have working carbon monoxide detectors in your home. Never run a gasoline or propane heater or a grill inside your home or an unventilated garage,” the release advises.
Frostbite can occur on exposed skin in less than 30 minutes, the release states. “Symptoms include a loss of feeling and a white or pale appearance in fingers, toes, ear tips and tip of the nose. If you see these signs, seek medical care immediately!”
Symptoms of hypothermia—abnormally low body temperature—include shivering, exhaustion, confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss, slurred speech and drowsiness. Symptoms in infants can include bright red or cold skin and very low energy.
Again, seek medical help without delay.