In the winter of 2008, a local homeless man froze to death in Winchester, Virginia.
A group of faith-based leaders came together, wondering what they could do to help and realizing they had the solution right at their fingertips: church buildings that were warm and safe, with bathrooms and kitchens, which were sitting empty at night. Thus, the vision for the Winchester Area Temporary Transitional Shelter (WATTS) was born. With commitments from a handful of churches and organizations who volunteered their buildings for a week each, WATTS launched our first season in November 2009. Volunteers from these “host” groups provided dinners, breakfasts, and bagged lunches for WATTS guests every night through March 2010. Additionally, their volunteers spent time with our guests, playing games, doing puzzles, or just having a time of fellowship that was judgement-free. Local school bus drivers volunteered their time to transport our guests each day to and from the specified locations. It was truly a community effort and for that reason, it was a great success!
The overnight shelter has operated from November – March every year since that first season (even during the COVID-19 shutdowns!) WATTS is a low-barrier shelter, meaning we will take ANYONE who is homeless, regardless of sobriety or criminal background. For this reason, the shelter is for ADULTS only and volunteers must be at least 18 years of age. The shelter can house up to 35 guests each night on cots that are cleaned and moved each week to the next host group location. WATTS owns the cots and linens, which are laundered each week and stored during the off-season. Some of our host groups have shower facilities for guests to be able to clean up. Many people come in to volunteer their various talents to our guests, such as providing haircuts, music therapy, and medical services, to name a few.
Our mission from when we began remains relevant today; unfortunately, the need has continued to grow over the years and we’ve realized the need for additional services. In October 2022, we unveiled our new evolved and expanded Mission:
To break the cycle of homelessness one life at a time. We empower individuals to re-enter the workforce and connect individuals to the resources needed to be as self-sufficient as possible while providing a safe, temporary shelter during extreme weather.
Some of our newest services include:
Transition Support Staff (TSS) and Transition Out of Homelessness Program – The TSS team help our guests with such things as obtaining birth certificates and identification, assisting with job applications, forms for Centralized Housing Intake and apartments, applying for Medicaid, Medicare, and SNAP benefits, information and placement in drug and alcohol detox/rehabilitation programs, and much, much more. Falling into homelessness is easy and can happen quickly; getting out is much more difficult and complex. Our team work with our guests to set achievable goals, and then serve in a case manager-type role to help guests achieve those goals, with the ultimate objective being to assist our guests on their path to a safe, stable future.
Cooling Center – Operating out of Market Street UMC (131 S. Cameron Street, Winchester) the Cooling Center gives homeless individuals a safe, air-conditioned place to sit for a few minutes or a few hours to help cool off from the heat. We offer snacks and refreshing drinks daily and have lunch offerings on various days, provided by generous volunteers! Open during the hottest summer months (July and August) everyday, from noon to 5 pm.
Warming Center – Operating out of Market Street UMC (131 S. Cameron Street, Winchester) the Warming Center gives homeless individuals a safe, warm place to sit for a few minutes or a few hours to warm up from the cold. We offer snacks and warm drinks daily and have breakfast and lunch offerings on various days, provided by generous volunteers! Open during the coldest months (November through March.) **The Warming Center also serves as the bus stop/pick-up point to go to the overnight shelter for the weeks when our host location is NOT a downtown, walkable church.**