Vacant Watertown building could become homeless warming center

Published: Oct. 4, 2022 at 5:26 PM EDT
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WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - The owner of a Watertown building is willing to work with a local group to help the homeless find a warm place to stay this winter.

“I came out this morning. I seen somebody laying on the ground. I hear, ‘It’s cold, there’s nothing here.’ It’s all windy, it’s not protected,” said Mel, a homeless woman who didn’t want us to use her last name.

Mel says she was lucky to find a warm place to stay last night. But not everyone sleeping underneath the JB Wise Pavilion can say the same.

“You’ve got to be really strong to weather the cold winds and the people, and people who condemn you for who you are, how you are, and where you are,” said Mel.

Just a few blocks away is a window of opportunity - a short-term solution with a vacant Arsenal Street building. It’s a former tire shop bought by 217 Arsenal Street LLC in 2013. Developer PJ Simao is a partner.

The building could be loaned this winter to the Watertown Area Rescue Mission or W.A.R.M. to become a warming shelter and a place to do laundry.

“Two-story. Almost 6,000 feet per story. Somebody would have to go in there and assess and evaluate whatever work would need to be done to fit their needs for this upcoming winter,” said Simao.

Details to use the building still need to be ironed out.

People like Mel hope it happens. With the change in seasons coming, she says there needs to be change in the community.

“We have so many of us. It’s going to be overrun. There’s so many that come out of the woodwork asking where to go. It’s not just about having somewhere warm to be. It’s about food, showers, and be able to stand and say, ‘We have somewhere to be warm,’” she said.

W.A.R.M. has had different options met with opposition.

It decided against buying a house in the city for its warming center and plans to build on property near Interstate 81 are still being discussed.