Watertown building opens as temporary homeless shelter

Published: Nov. 18, 2022 at 5:45 PM EST
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WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - A temporary place for the homeless to stay has opened in Watertown. It comes a day after tarps were put up to shield homeless people living in tents at Butler Pavilion from the snowstorm.

A building on Main Avenue, owned by developer PJ Simao, was opened Friday so the city’s homeless can get out of the cold.

“Dispersing them into no place is not an answer. In these conditions, if we can just minimally get them inside, that’s an alternative for them,” said Jefferson County Legislator Scott Gray, who helped facilitate the shelter.

The former body shop is secure, heated and will have power 24/7. Gray says the temporary shelter will remain open until other warming centers solve staffing shortages.

The goal is to move people from the Butler Pavilion in the J.B. Wise parking lot. The city’s homeless population has been living in tents there for the past few weeks.

Thursday night, the community wrapped the pavilion in blue tarps to protect people from the cold and snow.

That prompted an email from Watertown Mayor Jeff Smith to city council, the city manager and the police chief. Smith said the tarps were “absolutely unacceptable” and asked who in the city authorized them to be put up and if a permit was given.

“There shouldn’t be special treatment. That is an outdoor pavilion. It is not a shelter. It is not a homeless shelter. People have to pay to use it. Doesn’t seem like fair or equal treatment,” said Smith.

The mayor plans to introduce a resolution Monday night that will prohibit camping at the pavilion and close it to people at 9 p.m.

Meanwhile, the efforts will continue to see if the people who are living there will move to the newly-opened, heated location.

“We can only tell them that there’s a facility and it’s indoors and protected from the elements. They can set up their tent in here if they want to,” said Gray.