FFL Reaches Agreement with EconoLodge in Waupaca

Written by Angie Landsverk

Published by Waupaca County Post

Private funds will cover the cost of renting five rooms at EconoLodge for Foundations for Living’s warming center this upcoming season.

This partnership will help the nonprofit organization serve those who are homeless and do so safely in the midst of the COVID- 19 pandemic.

“I’m very excited about it. I think it’s going to be a great answer,” said Wilma Akright, executive director of Foundations for Living (FFL).

It was during a virtual meeting on Oct. 15, that she learned funds had been raised for such an effort. Akright had been seeking ideas for how to open the warming center for what will be its sixth season. FFL will now open the warming center at the hotel on Nov. 1.

The Oct. 15 meeting included city and community leaders. “EconoLodge has agreed to give a good price,” she said.

Akright said the private funds will cover the cost of those five rooms for the next three months at a minimum. The arrangement could be extended, with grants being sought as well.

The warming center’s season runs through April 30.

The center is open from 7 p.m. until 7:30 a.m. the next day.

Hotel requires fewer volunteers

In addition to the need to physically distance guests, another concern was having a volunteer base to cover the center’s hours. Two volunteers are needed during the hospitality time.

During usual seasons, two volunteers are also needed to stay overnight.

Under the arrangement with EconoLodge, FFL will now only need two volunteers for the hospitality time. “From 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., people can check in with us,” Akright said.

The hotel is located at 1060 W. Fulton St. and will be FFL’s primary warming center.

Intake will take place in the hotel’s lobby, and the five rooms will be kept together, she said. Akright said guests without a place to go to during the day will be allowed to stay at the hotel. FFL’s actual warming center is a large room within its space on Churchill Street.

Akright said that center will now be used for overflow.

In a typical season, the maximum number of guests the center may have there is eight.

The need to physically distance guests this season means that number could be six or as low as four.

Prior to this partnership forming for the season, Akright also wondered how FFL would quarantine guests if they test positive for the virus.

“It gives us a safe answer to the covid issue,” she said.

The arrangement with the hotel addresses all her concerns.

“We don’t need overnight volunteers,” Akright said. “We still need people to do the two hours of intake.” Anyone interested in helping may call FFL at 715-942-2725.

“It really helps that we don’t have to be concerned about the overnight time. That limits the number of volunteers we need,” Akright said.

Arranging safe housing

She said it is also a safe arrangement because the guests will not be in one room, and those with COVID-19 symptoms will be able to isolate from others.

People will be able to stay at the center for three days with no commitment, she said. Those who want to stay longer will need to complete an assessment with FFL.

The assessment is about determining how to help them move to a better place in life, Akright said. She said FFL is still in need of help with providing food for guests.

Individual meals that can be microwaved may be dropped off at FFL’s office at 1421 Churchill St. from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Donations of adult-sized T-shirts and sweatpants are also appreciated, so guests have something clean to sleep in after arriving at the center.

Akright was concerned about many issues as she prepared for the center’s season and is grateful for the civic-minded leaders who stepped forward to help.

“Waupaca cares for their own,” she said. “We’re so thankful and blessed to be in such a welcoming community.”

Meetings with city, Rotary

City Administrator Aaron Jenson said Akright contacted him in August with her concerns about having enough volunteers this season and operating safely.

He said there was a push to get more volunteers, but they “quickly realized it was going to be difficult to find volunteers.” After “spinning our wheels a little bit,” Akright gave a presentation to Waupaca Rotary, he said.

Out of that meeting came a larger brainstorming session in late September to address the needs heading into the winter, Jenson said.

Two people who attended that meeting helped Akright spearhead the effort with the hotel, he said. Jenson said the right people were at the table.

There was a need in the community, and people pulled together quickly to collaborate and help FFL continue to do its good work, he said.

“From my perspective, it was awesome to just watch,” Jenson said.

This article was originally published at https://waupacanow.com/2020/10/22/homeless-offered-hotel-rooms/