WINCHESTER — As a heat wave bakes the region, the Winchester Area Temporary Thermal Shelter (WATTS) plans to open a cooling center next week.

“It’s really just a place for people to come inside, cool off, get a drink or a snack and charge their phones,” WATTS Executive Director Robyn Miller said. “It’ll be very similar to our warming center. They can come and go at will. It’s really just a place that gives them a break from the hottest part of the day.”

The center will be open from Aug. 2 to Oct. 31 at Market Street United Methodist Church, 131 S. Cameron St., Winchester. Hours are noon to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, with the exception of a 4:30 p.m. closing time on Thursday.

Miller said this will be the first time that WATTS has opened a cooling center. In December 2020, the Winchester-based nonprofit organization opened its first daytime warming center at the church, which she said was a “huge success.” The warming center was in addition to the overnight shelter that WATTS provides to those in need from November to March.

The success of the warming center last winter prompted the decision to open a cooling center this summer.

“We had guests that don’t normally come into the evening shelter come into that warming center, and it worked out better than I could have ever imagined,” Miller said. “I wanted to be able to keep extending our services as best we can.”

She said Market Street United Methodist Church was “more than willing” to serve as the cooling center’s home.

The closure of some local motels as well as Virginia’s recent decision to stop accepting new patients at five state mental hospitals has presented the homeless population with more challenges.

Miller said there are many obstacles for those working to change their living situation, but the biggest one locally might be the lack of affordable housing.

“I have eight guests that have more than enough money to afford a home, but there’s no place for them to go at all,” Miller said. “I don’t mean they have a little bit to pay. They have $800 to 900 a month. There’s no place that can take them, or if there is a place it’s way out in the county with no way for them to get to work. It’s difficult.”

WATTS, which was established in 2009, will begin its normal shelter season on Nov. 6. A warming center is expected to be available again.

The cooling center is in need of bottled water, sodas, iced tea and snacks. They may be dropped off at the center from noon to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday or by contacting Miller at execdirector@watts-homelessshelter.org or 504-514-7218 to make other arrangements.

— Contact Matt Welch

at mwelch@winchesterstar.com

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