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Proposed site for Wausau warming center opposed by residents, passes Plan Commission Tuesday


WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAU) -  The warming center for the homeless may end up in a different location next winter. Wausau’s Plan Commission voted 4-1 in favor of allowing Catholic Charities to move their center and their offices to 540 South 3rd Avenue.

That Plan Commission vote didn’t come without opposition. Several residents expressed concerns about having this move from the downtown to their residential area. Others say the neighborhood is a mixture of neighborhood businesses surrounded by residential areas.

Wausau Police Captain Bryan Hilts says he understands both sides of that argument. “You know, it’s a matter of perspective here. The immediate area has businesses, and probably one layer away from that, it’s residential area, so I can understand why there’s concerns and support in both directions.”

Many speaking during the public hearing expressed the need for the warming center, but didn’t want it in their backyard. Some of them were concerned about possibly attracting more crime. Hilts doesn’t expect that to be a problem. “I can only look at the history we’ve had at our current center and the history that La Crosse has had. There’s been very little if any criminal activity involved. There’s been little to no disruption to the neighborhoods, and I guess I don’t expect that to be any different in this location.” Hilts adds, “There certainly are other areas in that vicinity that officers are paying attention to. There are also a few taverns in that area that, of course, generate calls for service for the police department as well.”

11th Ward Alderman Robert Mielke supports having an improved warming center, but says he’s been contacted by many residents asking him not to support the move to 3rd Avenue. “A week ago Monday, I actually toured the facility. In a lot of ways, personally, I do feel it is a good location. That being said, what a difference a week makes. I have been inundated with emails, phone calls, letters, and a neighborhood meeting last night (I was) literally told, do not let this come in.”

Mielke is hopeful a different location can be found for the Catholic Charities offices and the community warming center.

Deacon Richard Sage says they would like to expand the capacity to hold more people, and offer the homeless a place to take a shower and clean their clothing. 540 South 3rd Avenue has about 4,600 square feet of space and would allow for that.

The building was most recently used as Republican Headquarters during the 2012 elections. It was originally built as Dutch Hall in 1886, and has been used in the past as a site for North Central Health Care’s services.

The full City Council will take up this issue July 9th. There is likely to be plenty of comments and debate before the council takes a vote.