LA CROSSE, Wisconsin (WXOW) - With wind chill in the negatives and snow on the ground, many of La Crosse's homeless are seeking shelter.
The Salvation Army is one place that opens its doors to those in need, but staff said they're overcapacity.
For Bruce Butterfuss, the Salvation Army's emergency shelter is much more than just a mattress and a meal.
"I'm homeless and if I'm out there, I'm gonna die," Butterfuss said. "Three times they've save my life. Without it, you're gonna get pneumonia and die. It's warm, you get three meals a day, I get to do my laundry."
Butterfuss suffers from lung disease, bronchitis and said the vicious cold makes it impossible to breathe.
So he seeks shelter.
He's one of the 93 people the Salvation Army staff is housing in their emergency shelter.
The building was originally designed to hold 46 people, capacity is considered 86, said Julie Nelson, Salvation Army development director. The all-time high occupancy for the emergency shelter was 99 people during the scorching hot days over the summer.
"We're above our capacity so this means we put down mattresses on the floor, we have people sleeping in lounges, so we do everything we can to get people inside ‘cause we really don't want people sleeping outside in this kinda weather," Nelson said.
There are only two reasons a person would be denied from the emergency shelter. The first, if he of she fails a breathalyzer test. The second, if he or she is a registered sex offender.
"But when you have this many people in a building, you have a lot of stress, both on the building and on the staff," Nelson said. "Tempers start to flair with the people living here, so it does become a very stressful situation."
But it's an emergent situation, and Butterfuss knows that. He said as soon as the weather warms up, he'll seek his own salvation.
"I'd like to have my own home. My own home with my own dishes and plates and silverware, cook my own meals and clean my place up," Butterfuss said. "This is a good emergency stop. It'll never be home."
Butterfuss said the Salvation Army has helped put him on the path to finding a permanent residence and a job. Something he said he's taking advantage of.
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