WINCHESTER — Winchester Area Temporary Thermal Shelter (WATTS) was originally slated to end its 20-week season on March 28, but it will stay in operation through April 4.
The extension was made because WATTS organizers were worried their guests wouldn’t have anywhere to go amid the coronavirus outbreak.
Thanks to Braddock Street United Methodist Church in Winchester, WATTS will stay open another week, from March 28-April 4, said WATTS Interim Executive Director Robyn Miller.
Started in 2009, the nonprofit program provides homeless adults with overnight shelter for a 20-week period from November to March. Area churches and other groups take turns hosting the program for one week at a time.
Miller said WATTS isn’t able to extend the current season beyond April 4 because the group doesn’t have enough staff, money or a location to do so.
“I’m having a hard time finding a location someone will give me,” Miller said. “But even if I had the location, I don’t have enough staff to man it, and I don’t have enough money to hire more staff. So that’s really what’s hindering us. And I’m losing volunteers, too. And I understand why people might be hesitant to come in and volunteer at this time, even though our guests are very healthy. But people don’t want to leave their home and I understand.”
She added that WATTS clients are worried where they will go when WATTS ends.
“They are very concerned,” Miller said. “Because they don’t even have a place to go to the bathroom. The restaurants are closed. The library is closed. They will literally be outside 24 hours a day.”
Gov. Ralph Northam has ordered a 10-person limit on gatherings at a places like restaurants and gyms as result of the coronavirus.
Miller hopes that other nonprofit groups like the Salvation Army will be able to continue serving meals.
Winchester Salvation Army Capt. Kelly Durant said the shelter at 300 Fort Collier Road, which has 48 beds, is at capacity.
Although the Salvation Army normally invites people into its dining area for breakfast, lunch and dinner, meals are mostly being limited to people living at the shelter as a result of the virus. However, it will provide take-out food, if requested.
Durant said in an email that the Salvation Army is struggling to figure out how it will have enough food to give out in response to the coronavirus pandemic, noting that many people will soon find themselves unemployed because so many businesses are closed or have curtailed operations.
The Salvation Army’s shelter and its Thrift Store at 320 Weems Lane are disinfecting surfaces every hour. The store has reduced its hours from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. and its staff is down to three people. About half of the workers are taking personal or sick days so they are not potentially exposed to the virus.
“Please spread the word we desperately need donations to not go under financially,” he said. “We are in a very serious financial situation, but we will not stop serving others in need. A check to us here, or a donation at the store, there are many ways in which everyone can help. At this moment we are getting zero FEMA funds as this is not a disaster per se, so we are having to re-adjust how to serve current needs and future ones.”