It should not take temperatures in the minus-20s and wind chills in the minus-40s to remind us that there are people living without adequate shelter all winter long. The difference between 4 degrees and -44 degrees to a person without warm clothing and safe shelter is negligible.
Kyle Anfinson, owner of KBA Technology, did something about it. He opened the doors to his business at 155 S. Knowles Ave., to anyone in need of shelter during the lastest cold spell at the end of January.
A Jan. 29, email from Grace Place Director Duana Bremer to her fellow social service agencies in the midst of the polar vortex alerted them to a new volunteer on the block in New Richmond.
"We are set up for Polk, St. Croix and Barron counties. Folks can present anytime day or night during the next few days. We have also had some folks arrive at Grace Place due to lack of propane. They are able to stay until propane has been delivered.
"Also, KBA Technology, a business in New Richmond, has also opened their doors to handle any overflow or folks that just want to stay for the day. They will contact us to provide case managera for intake and VI-SPDAT," wrote Bremer.
It was not that Anfinson was planning to open his door, it was more of a spur-of-the-moment, lightbulb kind of idea.
"We said, 'Hey we've got the space in New Richmond and this is something we can do. So let's just do it.' So it was somewhat on a whim. I called my wife just to see if I could not come home for three days and she said okay. So I posted it on Facebook that we would make our space on Knowles available as an emergency shelter for the next three days for people who might not have a place to stay that's warm. Whether that is a homeless person or someone who's furnace had broken. It seemed so obvious that once it came into my head, I had to do it," said Anfinson.
After clearing the overnighter with his wife, Anfinson hung the Open sign in the door, left the lights on and settled in to see if he could be of assistance.
"In general, we kind of have a mission to serve the community and this last year we really wanted to double down on that commitment, to see how we could serve better," said Anfinson.
Anfinson reached out to Bremer at Grace Place to let her know his plan and get a short course in what he needed to know.
"We knew they were better at this than we were. They do it all the time," said Anfinson.
As Bremer noted in her email, should KBA find folks taking them up on their offer, depending on what was needed, Grace Place could send over case managers and provide screening using the Vulnerability Index - Service Prioritization Decision Assistance Prescreen Tool (VI-SPDAT).
Although it was short notice, Anfinson posted KBA'as availability on Facebook. From there word of his offer spread through the community online, but primarily via word of mouth. His idea inspired a lot of people who wanted to help out.
"The people we had didn't necessarily know about us. It was other people telling them about us. They'd go somewhere and ask. They hadn't seen our Facebook post. By default, the more people that knew we'd be taking people in, the more likely we'd be successful as a place for them to go. We also had a lot of people calling up to say, 'Hey we heard you're doing this and in any way that I can, I want to help," said Anfinson.
Anfinson explained once he made the decision to open his doors, he kind of hoped no one would show up.
"Part of me was hoping we wouldn't (see anyone) in a good way, like there wasn't somebody who needed warmth in these miserable temperatures. But if there was someone, I definitely wanted them to come and we did have someone take advantage of the shelter. I didn't want anyone to be suffering," said Anfinson.
Encouraged by their initial effort to provide shelter, Anfinson and his staff are looking at ways to do more. One idea they are considering addresses the fact that shelter is a season-long need not just a matter of a handful of subzero nights. Their idea would establish a temperature, for example, 15 degrees, below which KBA's doors would automatically be open to people in need of shelter. Hopefully over tim , folks would just come to recognize KBA as a shelter.
Another idea would operate like a neighborhood watch, except in this case, it would be shelters. Different businesses on Main Street would volunteer among themselves to take turns being open on certain nights or maybe a week at a time making it more feasible to cover the whole season.
Anfinson and his staff are also looking at opening up the doors at their other locations.
"We had the resources in New Richmond to do this. We'd love to be able to do it in all of our stores. It's something we're talking about."
To learn more about the KBA shelter project, contact Kyle Anfinson at 715-954-4028. To learn more about Grace Place and volunteering, contact Duana Bremer at 715-246-1222.