Wisconsin is a place where the weather is a fickle monster. A 50-degree Christmas every couple of years is quickly followed by a slushy snow storm that gives way to a deep freeze. Twenty-twenty-four has been no exception, and while the unhoused population in Milwaukee has continued to grow, warming centers have struggled to keep up. There are ones that are run by the county and city, which do as much as they can, but the demand has grown, and members of the community are taking it upon themselves to step up to the challenge.

One of those community members is Pastor Lizandra Feliciano, a 20-year resident of Milwaukee. She emigrated to the city from San Juan, Puerto Rico in 2004, and she has been serving Milwaukee’s south side ever since, joined by her husband, Pastor Rick Matias. Feliciano previously ran a center for people who also emigrated from Puerto Rico, victims of Hurricane Maria, looking for refuge. That center was on 21st and Lapham and welcomed anyone who needed help, no questions asked.

That is the same philosophy applied to Feliciano’s newest venture, New Life Warming Center, located at 2064 S. 14th St. It states on the door, “Come Just As You Are.”

“There are absolutely no questions asked,” Pastor Liz says. “We don’t ask for documentation of citizenship and we are fully bilingual. I cannot overstate how important it is that we let people know this. A lot of the people who come here don’t speak English and we make sure they are taken care of.”

Faith Embassy is the name of the church through which the warming center is run, started by Pastor Liz and her husband, as well as pastors Danny and Elena Velasquz, also a husband and wife.

“It is important to note that we are the first Latine-run warming center in the city,” Pastor Liz says. “This was something we wanted to do for the Latine community, but we are open to absolutely everyone and will never turn anyone away.”

New Life is open from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. It is completely funded by donations, and members of the community have shown up in droves, signing up for three-hour shifts if they are unable to donate monetarily or with items. Caroline Gomez-Tom, who is the supervisor for the district that the warming center is in, states: “We need to address the issues that cause housing insecurity and homelessness before it becomes the reality for our neighbors. I am so thankful for how our community shows up when people are struggling. My goal is that none of us has to struggle with housing to begin with. If we all have what we need to thrive, then reactive care will not be necessary.”

There are tables, microwaves and hot meals served at New Life, but they are still looking for perishable food items, inflatable mattresses, gloves, blankets, pillows, coats, water, toilet paper, spoons, and coffee cups. While they do dispense free toiletries, they would ideally like to have a facility with showers one day. Pastor Liz dreams of this, but for now is very proud.

“We are simply doing the work that needs to be done,” she says. “One day we will be able to have a bigger facility with more amenities, but right now, the community is doing great. I am very appreciative of how people have really shown up for each other.”

This is a community at work, and adding New Life to Milwaukee County’s list of warming centers will establish it as a place where people can turn to in their time of need. These are the bedrocks of mutual aid, where humanity shines and faith in our fellow person is restored.

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About The Author

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Juan Miguel Martinez is a writer from the south side of Milwaukee. He only writes until he can land a role as the mechanic friend of the handsome lead in a telenovela. His favorite movie is Repo Man.