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Homeless shelter

Dodge County Central Wisconsin Community Action Council coordinator Letty Castillo is shown outside the New Beginnings homeless shelter for women and families at 407 Beaver St. It, and a men's shelter at 845 Madison St., are well utilized and provide an essential service for people in need. Castillo has been the county coordinator for the past 16 years.

Although relatively few people know about it, two local agencies are busy making sure that people don’t become homeless in Beaver Dam.

New Beginnings Homeless Shelter and Central Wisconsin Community Action Council operate two much-used shelters in Beaver Dam, providing an essential service to those in need.

Letty Castillo is the county coordinator for CWCAC at their office at 134 S. Spring St.

“We have the men’s shelter at 845 Madison St. with four beds, and the women’s/family shelter at 407 Beaver St. with nine beds,” Castillo said. “So we house both sexes and families during times of need.”

New Beginnings opened the facilities, but as that group experienced difficulties operating them, Central Wisconsin Community Action Council began managing them. New Beginnings is still active, however, and does whatever it can to support its original mission. It also has a standing board of directors that works hand in hand with the Central Wisconsin Community Action Council leadership and personnel.

Central Wisconsin Community Action Council was started in Wisconsin in 1966, in answer to President Johnson’s War on Poverty. Castillo has been employed at the Dodge County office for the past 16 years, and helps the group’s mission to provide help for those in need.

“I’m very fortunate because with CWCAC, we can help people in a lot of different ways,” Castillo said. “We have the food pantry so we can give them food. We have the shelters so we can get them off the streets. We have generous donors from local churches and other groups so we provide hygiene needs, blankets and other essentials. We also have job listings and computers so they can apply for jobs right here in our office. We have gas vouchers and taxi vouchers so they can get to their jobs or get to an interview. We have energy assistance so people can keep heat in their homes if they have one. We have mortgage assistance for those in danger of losing their homes.

“It’s really one-stop shop to meet all their needs.”

Although the Beaver Dam Food Pantry is probably their best-known effort, the shelters are used extensively as well. Since 2014 (when Central Wisconsin Community Action Council took it over), the men’s shelter has provided 1,898 shelter nights. At the women’s shelter, since 2007, there have been 9,729 shelter nights.

“We’re always busy,” Castillo said. “These are not drop-in shelters. Residents are screened so they do not create a hazardous situation for themselves or others. Families are kept together, so a father will not be separated from his children. They can stay 30 days, and during that time they are expected to be out during the days seeking employment and/or other housing options.”

Residents can stay in on very cold days or days when school is not in session.

Homeless people seldom look like they are portrayed in movies and on television, Castillo said. It is a truly rare thing when a person wrapped in newspapers and layers of clothing finds shelter under a bridge or inside a dumpster. If there is such a person, the police generally help that person relocate to a shelter in Madison or some other drop-in shelter.

The annual count of area homeless is set for Jan. 26, with volunteers looking for people staying in their cars or other locations.

“Thankfully we have not yet found anyone during our winter counts,” Castillo said. “That would be dangerous, and then we’d make sure to get them into a hotel or another shelter. If we were full, we’d find them a place in other shelters in Madison, Portage or Fond du Lac. We’d be happy to help more people here, but we just don’t have the space. Still, we’re well covered for the need that we have.”

Castillo said many of her clients are senior citizens or handicapped individuals. They’re men and women and families who have experienced job loss, divorce or health issues.

The important thing is that we get them going again,” Castillo said. “Often times they’re just down on their luck, and they just need a little help to get back on their feet again. They sometimes don’t feel there’s a way out. We give them a fresh start.”

One of the biggest obstacles clients face is their own pride.

“They’re often too proud to ask for help,” Castillo said. “They’re ashamed, and they’re afraid that a shelter is a gym with a bunch of cots. Ours is not like that, but it’s still hard for some people to admit that they need help.

“We sometimes have two women share a room at the women’s shelter, but there is one bed per room at the men’s shelter. They share the kitchen, and the living room and the bathroom. Both houses have washers and driers that are not coin-operated so they can do their laundry. We’re always asking for donations of cleaning supplies and laundry detergent and drier sheets. Most often people come in without those things, so it’s a real plus to have them here where they’re really needed.”

Each house has a live-in manager, assisted by volunteers who help out when needed.

Castillo helps wherever she is needed.

“I know that most people aren’t aware that we have shelters in Beaver Dam, but they’re certainly being used,” Castillo said. “Most of our clients are from the area. Homelessness can happen to anyone and we’re not here to judge. We don’t treat adults like children. We can guide them and try to help, but we can’t make them do what they don’t want to do. We let them know what resources are available, and hopefully we can help.

“That’s our goal, and I think we and our many partners do a good job achieving it.”