Front Royal Thermal Shelter opens for trial run
FRONT ROYAL – A warm respite from cold winter nights is now being offered to the local homeless population.
The Front Royal Thermal Shelter, a combined effort of churches and volunteers, began operations Friday. The shelter’s location changes on a weekly basis among four churches that have offered spaces to set up cots.
Founder Kathy Leonard has worked with the local homeless for years, a population she said is beset by a lack of shelter and food. The thermal shelter aims to solve those issues by providing a place to sleep at night during cold months, along with dinner and breakfast.
“This is a temporary solution as more permanent solutions are being worked on,” Leonard said.
It is mostly a volunteer effort run through the shelter’s seven-member planning committee and three paid night managers. In addition to the bigger churches that supply sleeping spaces, smaller churches have contributed through cooking and cleaning.
Committee member Pam Williams said “we’ve been very blessed by the community and God in this effort.”
The idea for a thermal shelter was originally mentioned by former Front Royal-Warren County C-CAP President Pat Younk, Leonard said. Some interest was shown over the summer, but she said “it wasn’t until about six weeks ago that I realized that this thing wasn’t going to happen unless we stepped up and made it happen.”
“We were told by other thermal shelters that we talked to that it would take about a year. We didn’t have a year. People were cold now. God really blessed us with some amazing people to make it happen so quickly,” Leonard said.
Williams said this inaugural year will serve as a pilot program for the future. The committee hopes the shelter will open earlier next year, beginning in November and spanning over all of the cold months. To expand services, she said the shelter needs to identify more churches to use as overnight facilities.
Committee member Vicki Davies said the idea is based on the Winchester Area Temporary Thermal Shelter (WATTS), with which she was previously involved. Now in its 10th year, WATTS has proved to have been a successful model, and she said there is no need to re-invent the wheel when there is a tried-and-true method available.
The Front Royal Thermal Shelter will be open through March 24. The New Hope Bible Church will host through Saturday; Riverton United Methodist Church from Saturday to March 10; Virginia Hills Church from March 10 to March 17; and Marlow Heights from March 17 to March 24.
Since most of the churches are not within walking distance of town, a van picks up anyone who wants use the shelter at 6:30 p.m. behind St. Luke Community Clinic at 316 N. Royal Ave. Dinner is served upon arrival, and for the rest of the night, the attendees can visit with each other, watch television, or relax on cots.
The shelter will limit itself to 15 cots this year, which, Leonard said, “will keep it manageable while we work out any possible kinks.” By next year, she said she hopes to increase capacity to 20.
Williams said everyone is welcome to use the shelter. There are no background or identification checks, and those under the influence are allowed.
“It is a no-barrier shelter for the people that kind of slipped through the cracks. If they come in and they don’t want to give their name, that is entirely up to them. … they still deserve to have a clean, warm place to sleep and a hot meal,” she said.
Just a couple of people stayed in the shelter the first two nights, but, Williams said, “we’re hoping it will spread through word of mouth in the homeless community that the shelter is a safe and welcoming place to come.”
Davies said while providing food and shelter are the primary goals, other helpful services are offered. For example, the shelter helps organize job resumes and provides clothes for interviews.
“We eat dinner with them, and talk with them, and see what we can do to help them in life,” Davies said.
Davies is also executive director of St. Luke Community Clinic, and has arranged for the homeless to stop by the clinic without an appointment. When the van returns those who stay in the shelter to the clinic at about 5 a.m., they are offered free health care.
“It’s our way of hopefully keeping them out of the emergency room. They are uninsured, and it is very costly for them to go to the emergency room,” Davies said.
Front Royal Thermal Shelter relies heavily on donations, and so far has raised about $4,000. Donations can be made through the link on the Facebook page “Thermal Shelter of Front Royal.” Checks can be made out to New Hope Bible Church at 80 N. Lake Ave. with “thermal shelter” written on the memo line.