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Jan 27, 2023

Our conversation today with Jenna DeHaven, Director of Advancement for United Way Northern Shenandoah Valley included Robyn Miller, Executive Director of the Winchester Area Temporary Thermal Shelter.

Robyn gave us the history of her organization and talked about the important role it plays for the homeless in our community. She explained how the overnight shelter works with support from local churches. The overnight shelter has operated from November – March every year since that first season in 2009 (even during the COVID-19 shutdowns!)  WATTS is a low-barrier shelter, meaning they 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 the host groups have shower facilities for guests to be able to clean up.  Many people come in to volunteer their various talents to guests, such as providing haircuts, music therapy, and medical services, to name a few.

In addition to the overnight shelter they provide, seasonally they operate warming/cooling centers from 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.  WATTS offers snacks and warm drinks daily and has breakfast and lunch offerings on various days, provided by generous volunteers!  Open during the coldest months - December through March - Monday - Saturday from 7am - 2pm and Sundays 12 noon – 6pm. The Warming Center also serves as the bus stop/pick-up point to go to the overnight shelter for the weeks when the host location is NOT a downtown, walkable church. 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.  WATTS offers snacks and refreshing drinks daily and has lunch offerings on various days, provided by generous volunteers!  Open during the hottest summer months - July and August - from noon to 5 pm.

Robyn also told us about their Transition Out of Homelessness program which offers staff to help guests with things such 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 as a few examples. She explained that falling into homelessness is easy and can happen quickly; getting out is much more difficult and complex.  Her team works with guests to set simple, achievable goals, and then serve in a case manager-type role to help guests achieve those goals, with the ultimate objective being to assist guests on their path to a safe, stable future.

Before we wrapped up our conversation, Robyn told us about their first annual Coldest Night of the Year (CNOY) Walk beginning at 4pm on Saturday, February 25, 2023. It’s a FUNdraiser that culminates in a Walk that happens every year in February in cities all over North America. The walk is held in February (a typically snowy and often frigid month) to allow folks to step outside the warmth and comfort of home and experience a little bit of what it might be like to be homeless – the purpose of the walk is to raise awareness and funds for people experiencing hurt, hunger, and homelessness. It works similarly to Relay for Life or the Out of the Darkness Walk to fight suicide, where you commit to walking and ask family, friends, etc. to sponsor your mileage. Walkers, teams, volunteers, and donors are needed. ANYONE can participate in this event – the routes (choose the 2k or 5k) are within Winchester city limits, on sidewalks, with easy intersections. Click here for more information or to register.

Jenna encouraged listeners to consider volunteering to serve on United Way's fund distribution panels to be part of the decision-making process of distributing the funds that are raised through the campaign each year. You can find more information by clicking here. She also reminded us of the Rubbermaid Sale happening on Saturday, January 28, 2023 from 9am - 12pm in the Belk parking lot at Apple Blossom Mall.