WINCHESTER — Robyn Miller, interim executive director for the Winchester Area Temporary Thermal Shelter (WATTS), said the charity is “constantly” working on several leads for a permanent, year-round location to shelter the area’s homeless.
“Housing in Winchester just gets more and more expensive,” Miller said on Tuesday. “We’re displacing people all the time.”
WATTS, a nonprofit group, partners with local faith-based organization to provide overnight shelter to people who need a warm place to sleep when the weather turns cold. The program rotates through various churches, a week at a time, for 20 weeks.
Miller, a WATTS board member and former volunteer, recently succeeded Marion Schottelkorb, who died last month. Miller is acting as interim executive director until Jan. 1, at which time she will solidify her position.
She said she would like to be the director that sees “Marion’s vision” of a permanent, 365-day-a-year shelter become a reality.
Progress is being made on that vision, Miller said. The Salvation Army has offered to donate some land, while several churches have offered buildings, she said.
Miller declined to say exactly where the land and buildings are because WATTS’ expansion committee is still studying each site, she said. But it is a primary project the 15-member board is undertaking.
There are more immediate concerns, Miller said. Fundraising is a constant worry, as it takes $130,000 to put on the 20 weeks of programming. The WATTS program will begin Nov. 9.
Expenses include the bus WATTS owns, medical supplies and pay for the night watchmen who stay with the 35 sheltered guests.
Also, First United Methodist Church is moving from downtown, so that location will not be available this year, Miller said. The board has to find another location for that week.
Miller said she would also like to chip away at the stigma of homelessness. While some of the WATTS guests are people with mental illnesses and physical disabilities, more than half of them are people who work jobs in construction or restaurants, she said.
“They go to work every day,” she said, adding that the competition and cost of housing in the area can be so intense that working people cannot afford a place to live.
A member of Braddock Street United Methodist Church. Miller said she was looking for a volunteer opportunity and ended up helping when Braddock Street UMC hosted WATTS. She became a board member about a year ago, she said.
Miller is the only full-time employee of WATTS. Her salary is $52,000, she said.
WATTS can only take 35 people, Miller said. They frequently have to turn people away “and it’s awful.”
She said she was immediately enamored with WATTS’ mission when she started volunteering and hopes to continue maintaining and growing the organization.
“It’s just a meal, a bed and fellowship,” she said. “And it makes such a huge difference in the community.”