The Winchester Area Temporary Thermal Shelter (WATTS) organization has expanded its mission to further help people experiencing homelessness in the Northern Shenandoah Valley.
At its annual fundraising dinner on Saturday, the nonprofit revealed its new mission statement:
“WATTS’s mission is 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.”
Along with the new mission statement comes a new logo. The previous image of a person being sheltered by a pair of hands has been updated to include more color and to show those hands holding a heart.
WATTS Executive Director Robyn Miller said the changes were made to reflect how the Winchester-based organization has grown from offering overnight shelter during the winter months to becoming a year-round operation with services to help homeless individuals find jobs and permanent housing.
“We’re trying to give them as many options as possible to find help out of homelessness,” Miller said. “There are so many barriers preventing them from being housed and making them successful once they’re in housing.”
WATTS launched in 2009 as a means to convert local churches into temporary shelters that provide overnight accommodations for the homeless during the winter months. Each participating church offers free meals and a place to sleep for one week, then another church picks up the mantle the following week.
In 2020, WATTS added a daytime warming center where people can escape the cold, get snacks and water, use a restroom and have other basic needs met. That was followed in the summer of 2021 with the opening of a daytime cooling center that offered the same amenities during hot weather. Both centers are located at Market Street United Methodist Church, 131 S. Cameron St., in downtown Winchester.
WATTS’s most recent addition is a three-person transition support staff that formed in late 2021 to work year-round helping displaced people obtain birth certificates and identification, apply for jobs, submit forms for housing assistance, get information about drug and alcohol rehab programs and seek Medicaid, Medicare and SNAP benefits.
“We have a guest that we just helped get into housing,” Miller said. “And we keep checking on him because it’s really difficult to go from homeless to housing and stay there and be successful.”
Miller said the issues that lead to people becoming homeless, such as mental health challenges, don’t go away once they get a house or apartment. That’s why WATTS’s transition team offers ongoing support to newly housed individuals until they’re able to be completely independent.
“Sometimes it’s super simple, like getting somebody a pair of ear buds so they can stay calm and stay inside,” Miller said. “And sometimes it’s really complex. We have a guest that’s been in hospice care for eight months and we stay with him and support him to make sure he is housed, safe and getting the emotional and spiritual support he needs until the end.”
Even as it expands its services, WATTS remains committed to providing temporary overnight shelter during cold-weather months. Accommodations will be offered Nov. 6 through March 13 at more than a dozen churches in Winchester and Frederick County, starting with Welltown United Methodist Church at 1444 Welltown Road in Clear Brook. A complete operating schedule is available at https://bit.ly/3CxEXyk, and Miller said the weekly shelters are expected to remain open 24 hours a day starting the week of Nov. 28.
The next goal, Miller said, is to open a permanent daytime facility that’s available year-round to individuals experiencing homelessness.
“It would give us a wonderful place for our transition support staff to meet with people,” she said. “We would like to have showers, washers and dryers.”
Miller said she would also like the facility to include a room where homeless clients with overnight jobs can sleep during the day. Overnight shifts generally pay more than those during the daytime, she said, but WATTS clients are often unable to work those hours because Winchester has no daytime shelters where they can sleep when their shift ends.
“It takes a lot of money,” Miller said about opening a permanent daytime facility.
On Saturday, WATTS raised an estimated $50,000 to $60,000 at its annual fundraising dinner, “An Evening of Caring and Sharing,” at Bowling Green Country Club North near Front Royal. Miller said the final tally of donations has not yet been calculated.
The dinner also gave Miller and the WATTS board of directors an opportunity to honor the businesses and volunteers whose support makes it possible for the organization to care for the homeless in Winchester, Frederick County and Clarke County:
- The Marion Schottelkorb Volunteer of the Year award was presented to Steven Cunningham, who serves as lead volunteer for at least one shelter week per season and continuously recruits area businesses to donate food, haircuts and other services.
- The David Witt Board Member of the Year award went to John Conrad, the nonprofit’s longtime treasurer whose guidance and oversight of expenditures helped WATTS save enough money to open its cooling and warming centers.
- The Community Partner of the Year award was given to Shenandoah Valley Westminster-Canterbury, a retirement community in Winchester that has washed the laundry for guests of the cold-weather shelters since the first one opened in 2009. Miller said the laundry services provided by Westminster-Canterbury are valued at approximately $6,000 for each five-month shelter season.
Miller also praised her entire board of directors, which she said is comprised of the hardest working, most dedicated people she has ever worked with.
“They genuinely care about the homeless people in our area and their effect on the community as a whole,” she said. “I feel so fortunate because I know not everybody has a board like that.”
To learn more about WATTS and its initiatives to help area residents escape homelessness, visit watts-homelessshelter.org.
— Contact Brian Brehm at firstname.lastname@example.org
Via Winchester Star