With temperatures up to 21 degrees this week, it’s unsettling to think the Waynesboro area has homeless people and homeless children who have no homes.
In city schools, 57 children had no fixed abode at the start of the school year – children staying with friends or family, sleeping in cheap hotels or in cars, or worse, sleeping on the streets.
Waynesboro Area Refuge Ministry, or WARM, is doing what it can to accommodate families, but their year-round housing is limited. WARM hosts about nine of the homeless children at his Anderson House.
For many of Waynesboro’s vulnerable adults, they call a strip of land along the South River home. Nicknamed the “tent city,” residents there have no access to electricity, toilets, or nearby garbage disposal, which makes their living conditions…well, anything but.
Shelters for cold weather
On November 21st, during Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, WARM will open its Cold Weather Shelters to offer the homeless an alternative to sleeping outdoors.
The Cold Weather Shelters are open thanks to partners like churches in Waynesboro and Augusta County — and Augusta Expoland.
Most are only open at night, and all are out until 7am – allowing the unemployed to stay out on the cold winter days and find shelter in the library or other public buildings.
Some of the people of Tent City are choosing to remain where they are despite being contacted to encourage them to take shelter indoors – and WARM is still working with local authorities to ensure they are fed with meals, supplies and support as much as possible, and to ensure they know where the shelters are if the weather worsens, they change their minds.
“We hope that when it really starts to get cold and the frozen precipitation starts falling, they will comply and come visit us,” said Brian Edwards, WARM’s acting chief executive officer and the organization’s board chairman.
The Cold Weather Shelters provide meals for those who stay there – dinner and breakfast the next morning – and a warm place to sleep. However, space is limited to 35 beds per night.
Augusta Expoland will house the shelter for four of this winter’s colder weeks – and unlike most shelter locations, it will be open 24 hours a day.
In a perfect world, a day shelter might be a long-term solution. It was talked about before COVID, but like many programs, it was put on hold during COVID. Well, said Edwards, it’s something that’s not in the immediate plans. Construction costs would likely exceed $1.5 million.
Once the organization hires a CEO, the board hopes they will have ideas too. Until that position is filled, they don’t have a conversation.
If I don’t see it, then it’s not a problem
The Waynesboro tent city is not seen by most Waynesboro residents. Occasionally, someone walking the greenway or living nearby may catch a glimpse of one or two of the makeshift tents.
But for most people in Waynesboro, Edwards said, not seeing it isn’t a problem.
In larger cities, the vulnerable population is much more visible – on park benches, streets and other public spaces.
The people you see handling pans on the streets of Waynesboro are not the homeless people Edwards works with. Do you have debit cards Most have cars. They have cellphones. The homeless people Edwards works with generally don’t have these things.
One of the big problems with getting help where it’s most needed is that people mistakenly assume the homeless are bad people.
Edwards, a former cop, understands the mentality. His church in Fishersville was one of the first host churches for the Cold Weather Shelters.
“I looked at the list of people, these are people I’ve arrested,” Edwards said, thinking back. “They’re just going to come into my church and cause problems. They didn’t. And I felt bad.
“I think that’s why I’m attracted to WARM now. I really want to work hard because I had all these misconceptions. But it was a development for me and it got me involved.
“If we don’t have a homeless help center, when they have problems, they go to one of two places: the emergency room or Middle River (regional jail). These are not good options.”
Many of the homeless have jobs but cannot find affordable housing. Some therefore live in their cars or worse. Some admittedly struggle with mental health or addiction issues.
In addition to providing a warm place to sleep and serving meals, the goal of WARM and other supportive organizations is to help vulnerable people find stable employment, affordable housing, addiction support, mental health care and physical care.
“I think we need to start with a paradigm shift first, that homeless people are bad people and they’re not. People just have to change their mindset first, and then I think anything can happen.”
What is needed
While the Cold Weather Shelters open on November 21st, the goal is to keep them open through spring.
At this point, WARM doesn’t have enough funds to keep them open in the long run.
Edwards said the organization needs two things: volunteers and funding:
- Volunteers help prepare meals
- Businesses help provide meals
- Funds to help with laundry costs
- Funds to support administrative costs
WARM is short of approximately $40,000 to cover the necessary funds for administration and food costs for the shelters. And then there are unexpected costs to the organization, such as B. the catalytic converter was cut out of the WARM van and that is now in the shop at an estimated cost of around $1,700.
“We’re hoping for funding and corporate sponsorship so we can go ahead and get what we need to get us through the entire season,” Edwards said. “Because once we start, we don’t want to stop until Easter comes.”