River Haven Shelter

River Haven's family shelter is in downtown Portage.

Jonathan Stefonek/Daily Register

The annual River Haven Bowl-A-Thon has returned as a staple of local fundraising in an increasingly stressful climate of diminishing resources for groups aiding the homeless.

“The first year, we only had one session,” said Cindy LeGrand, River Haven Homeless Shelter case manager, “and a lot of groups would come and ask for a lane and I would say, ‘We only have one session,’ and then the next year we had three sessions, and again this year.”

During the Bowl-A-Thon, River Haven will take over Fireball Lanes next Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., with three 2½-hour bowling sessions. For a minimum donation of $12, participants get continuous bowling, pizza and soda, along with a silent auction.

The idea of expanding again to four sessions was floated last year, according to LeGrand, but with the event lasting 7½ hours, it already is a long day for the volunteers.

The Bowl-A-Thon is one of two annual fundraisers River Haven organizes each year, the other being a spring concert. Each is critical to help fund the private nonprofit organization, which receives additional funding through state and federal grants.

One source of funding for organizations like River Haven is grants through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The proposed federal budget for 2018 cuts HUD funding by $7.7 billion, or about 17 percent, from this year and eliminates the National Housing Trust Fund, a program targeted at building and preserving housing affordable to those in the lowest income bracket and those dealing with homelessness.

Money raised from the Bowl-A-Thon goes toward operation of the two Portage River Haven homeless shelters. The men’s shelter has space for eight single men, while the larger family shelter can house 16, restricted to women, children and men with families.

“Our mission is to help the less fortunate back on their feet with case management and connecting them to resources,” LeGrand said. “There’s giving them shelter — which is one of the biggest things — and with the cold weather coming up, we really need to keep them warm.”

The organization has been helped this year by CrossPoint Assembly of God Church, which in addition to sponsoring a lane for the Bowl-A-Thon made a donation of shelter weatherization to keep the building warm and utility costs down.

“In wintertime, we usually get more clients,” LeGrand said. “Around the holidays, we are full.”

Those clients arrive through a referral network including law enforcement, Columbia County Health and Human Services, counselors and churches.

“I found out that there were eight individuals at one of the hotels in Portage, that have been under our radar, and it has been increasing,” LeGrand said. “Some of them don’t want to commit, so they are homeless in the motels, so when we do the nightly count we have to check with the motels as well. That is very sad because most of them need guidance and need help.”

Twice a year, LeGrand also goes out for a point-in-time count of homeless people in the region. During their last outing in July, more homeless were found around Wisconsin Dells, which is still well within LeGrand’s unofficial jurisdiction.

River Haven is one of a handful of homeless shelters in the region, and the only one in Columbia County. Others in the area are in Baraboo, Beaver Dam, Fond du Lac and Reedsburg. The shelters in Baraboo and Reedsburg are specifically for women.

“We have a lot of clients who have anxiety that come in here wondering if their Medicaid will be cut, if their BadgerCare will be cut — they are very worried about that,” LeGrand said. “Last I heard for us was six months ago, a 20 percent cut (to grants) that would be trickling down to us. We really depend on the community helping us out with the cost of operation for both shelters.”

Lanes are still open for the Bowl-A-Thon for bowlers and sponsors who would like to register, and those interested in taking part as either or both are encouraged to call River Haven at 608-742-7687.

“We haven’t heard anything,” LeGrand said of inquiries about federal HUD support, “but we have to have some faith hopefully that things will get better and there are not cuts, but we do depend on the community.”