Another approach to help the homeless as temperatures drop

Published: Sep. 23, 2022 at 5:53 PM EDT
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WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - Jefferson County is close to having a warming center for the homeless population as winter nears.

The county has formed a Homeless Steering Committee which is working with a handful of local non-profits with the goal of choosing a site that will be open from 7 PM - 7 AM, when the temperatures get below freezing.

County Administrator Bob Hagemann is pretty sure the location is set, but won’t release that information until everything is settled.

”Devils in the details, those are still being worked on. There is a site that is primarily being identified. Likely short termed based, meaning this year. Whether it goes beyond this year at that location or not remains to be seen,” said Hagemann

So as the county moves forward with a warming center, another non-profit has a unique new idea to try help with the homeless.

It’s a more holistic way to help the homeless: a new idea from a new non-profit. The Watertown Area Rescue Mission, or WARM, formed after fire ruined the Rainbow Motel, and 661 Factory Street was condemned. leaders hope to address the homeless problem with a bigger picture approach.

“Through working through the program, they can re-integrate back into the community with their skills. They can learn how to develop healthy relationships, and really build a foundation that they can grow from,” said Ruth Lago, Co-Executive Director of Watertown Area Rescue Mission.

Pushback from residents and elected officials caused the non-profit to stop plans to buy a North Pleasant Street property. Now, it is looking at land off Coffeen Street to build something new.

“Homeless shelters and warming centers can be an area where crime occurs, or violence occurs. So, there needs to be an approach to the structure that provides safety and security,” said Lago.

WARM hopes its proposal can be more than a warming center. Along with the main building, it hopes to have private rooms, showers and food and maybe even help people find jobs.

“This program we hope to be a pilot for other programs that can be implemented across the state or across the country,” said Lago.

Lago is prepared for more pushback. But WARM feels strongly in doing something safely and isn’t confident other community groups will have a solution before colder weather settles in.