You wouldn’t know it from the heat waves that keep washing through Racine County, but winter is coming. The proof is in the street lights shining at 5 a.m. now when it was the sun that greeted early-risers just a couple of weeks ago, and our homeless neighbors still need an emergency overnight shelter where they can seek refuge from the Wisconsin cold.

We were happily surprised when Segue Racine announced in April that a generous couple -Terry and Gloria Pogofsky of Glenview, IL – donated a former tavern on Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive to serve as a long-term emergency overnight shelter across the street from Julian Thomas Elementary School.

Finally! A long-term solution to help those who are perhaps not capable of helping themselves and thus not ready for HALO and their rehoming, employment and counseling programs. And it should be noted, emphatically, that registered sex offenders would not be allowed.

Leaders of Segue Racine knew it would take work with a veritable army of volunteers and a boatload of donated dollars to get the building ready to accept guests as early as this fall, and they were prepared for some push-back from the community. But, the level of negativity expressed during meetings last month surpassed “push-back” and ran full-on into Not in My Backyard, including from leaders in the community who have remained largely silent and absent from any discussions up until now.

3rd District Alderman Mike Shields during a community meeting last month said he was “concerned.” Pastor Melvin Hargrove drew a line in the sand when he said he wouldn’t tolerate a homeless shelter across from a school.

Wow. Did we miss the big joint announcement from Shields and Hargrove saying they have a building to donate, volunteers to get it ready, money to pay potential staff, etc.? Or … was there another local group with a space where homeless men and women – perhaps even some families – could find shelter?

The answer to both questions is no … Neither Shields nor Hargrove nor anyone else has stepped forward to actively take up where the Hospitality Center left off when Rev. Kevin Stewart and his stalwart group of volunteers just got too burned out in a space that was never meant to be an overnight shelter.

The REST program, which was a traveling homeless shelter of sorts at area churches before the creation of HALO, could be revived, County Executive Jonathan Delagrave suggested, if five to seven congregations agree to open their doors.

And that sounds like a fine solution except where are those churches located? Transportation is often an issue for homeless individuals so getting folks to the shelters could prove problematic depending on where the congregations are located.

The plan to turn an old tavern into an emergency overnight shelter is not only valid, it’s the only one with any real legs because the building is available now, and for those folks voicing “concerns,” we’d like to know where you’ve been for the last few years.

Where were you when Stewart and other HC supporters were begging for community leaders to answer the call to help?

You’ve been silent and disengaged, perhaps hoping someone else – anyone else – would step up and solve the problem so you could say with confidence that the greater-Racine area is a community that cares without actually having to do any work. Here’s the hard truth: the perfect location doesn’t exist, but good enough certainly does; especially one that is not only donated but has a tax lien Segue Racine said they would pay.

Paid property taxes and homeless neighbors sheltered from potentially life threatening cold sounds like a win-win to us.

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