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20150123_221154On a Friday night the temperature has dropped to a balmy 31 degrees and the volunteers open the doors at 7 p.m. to the emergency homeless shelter.

There’s an order to what happens next at the Hospitality Center, 614 Main St., as the wind whips through the streets and across the façade of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church where the program is housed.

Mattresses get pulled out of their hiding places. The coffee pot is filled. The faint sound of percolating water starts to fill the air. The chairs get re-arranged to make room for the mattresses, and people pour inside the building. Some of the people who come inside — mostly men and a handful of women — lug in garbage bags, duffel bags, and backpacks. Others have nothing.

Participants keep everything close — the jackets, the hats, the gloves — all things personal.

The feeling of discomfort and desperation hang in the all-purpose room, there’s a faint smell of booze. But few questions get asked here. There aren’t any background checks. The only guideline here is common courtesy to one another and a need for a warm place to stay. Volunteers keep an eye out for possible problems and play cribbage with some of the guests as others stare at a television in the middle of the room.

Those who have been there before know that the men sleep on the floor of the main room. The women spread out their sleeping bags on mattresses set on the stage. If the center gets a family — which they sometimes do — they sleep upstairs. The volunteers, who take shifts to monitor what’s going on and alternate throughout the night, sleep in the library.

A volunteer by the name of Dave, who used to be homeless himself, unwraps several frozen pizzas. The hot meal program that was supposed to happen at another church got cancelled because the pastor there died. Plates of Danish pastries are set out on a table and quickly disappear. A man named Kenny makes small talk about the Packers while Bob, another guest, pulls out papers from a notebook and writes down things he’s heard in conversation.

By 11 p.m. the evening slumber for 28 men and four women begins just as the sound of a man snoring pokes holes in the night.

Denise Lockwood has an extensive background in traditional and non-traditional media. She has written for, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Magazine and the Kenosha News.