With the frigid and dangerous weather that comes with a Wisconsin winter, the Homeless Coalition of Fort Atkinson is looking for a way to keep residents without shelter safe.

The coalition is seeking donations to build an emergency fund to be used if a family needs help quickly during what’s expected to be a brutal winter. The coalition is hoping to get 12 partners together to donate $500 each.

With a fund of $4,000 to $6,000, the coalition will be able to put families up in a hotel for a night or two, according to coalition member Jude Hartwick. The group already includes area churches and two businesses.

“We’re hoping that’s enough to help everybody,” Hartwick said. “We’re pooling together so we can coordinate care.”

With that $4,000 to $6,000 start, the hope is that the coalition eventually would be able to buy a house that will serve as either a Community-Based Residential Facility (CBRF) or a shelter, Hartwick said.

“Getting hotels is just really expensive,” Hartwick said. “Eventually, we’d like to get a house.”

As Fort Atkinson doesn’t currently have a homeless shelter, the coalition is trying to fill that void. However, Hartwick said the coalition is looking to build up the infrastructure in a way that doesn’t attract other people to the community.

“We want to deal with Fort Atkinson’s homeless population,” Hartwick said. “We want to structure this so we aren’t a magnet. We have enough of our own problems.”

But a permanent house is about a year-and-a-half away, Hartwick said. In the meantime, the coalition just wants to get through the winter.

Hartwick estimated the initial emergency fund will be able to help four to 10 families in the School District of Fort Atkinson.

“Fifty percent or more of our families are one disaster or one missed paycheck away from being in need of assistance,” Hartwick said.

In the past, this help has been a patchwork effort between various community groups, Hartwick said. Families would run down a list of churches in the area to find a warm place to stay for the night.

Now, the coalition will be working directly with Jefferson County Human Services to coordinate care.

An at-risk family simply would be able to call Human Services, which then would contact the network of help the coalition is providing.

Hartwick said that eventually, the coalition hopes to be a total package of assistance, not just Band-Aid solutions, but helping people dig out of a cycle.

“It’s a total, wraparound package,” he noted. “So they aren’t in a cycle of homelessness.”

This package includes helping people attain and maintain employment.

Opportunities Inc. is a coalition partner and is planning to pay people the next day so they don’t have to wait weeks for a paycheck, according to Hartwick.

The coalition also will chip in to help people put down security deposits for housing, according to Hartwick.

“We’re not just handing out,” Hartwick said. “We’re trying to lift them.”

The coalition is applying for 501©3 nonprofit status. Once this is achieved, Hartwick said, it will collaborate with the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater’s graduate programs in social work and business nonprofits, as well as other community groups such as Whitewater’s Bethel House, United Way, the Community Action Coalition and Jefferson County Human Services.

Each group will be able to provide a specific service to people who need help, Hartwick said, but mostly, they can give the coalition access to a large network of volunteers.

“We’re looking for people to volunteer with staffing and supervising,” Hartwick said. “They’d be trained and paired with somebody.”

These volunteers also will be able to act as a sponsor or mentor to at-risk families in the area, Hartwick said, adding that they will contribute to the coalition’s holistic efforts to combat homelessness.

“Our goal is to help those in need to not need us,” the coalition’s mission statement states.

Donations to the Fort Atkinson Housing Coalition are being accepted on its behalf at the First Congregational United Church of Christ in Fort Atkinson, 31 W. Milwaukee Ave., Fort Atkinson, 53538. Checks can be made payable to First Congregational UCC with the memo line, “FA Housing Coalition.”

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