By Brandon Martin
The Martinsville-Henry County Warming Center is updating its Wish List as it prepares to reopen for the season.
The center, which provides a warm and dry to shield the homeless from the extreme winter temperatures and inclement weather, began in 2013 through the partnership of the Salvation Army and several local churches, including The Community Fellowship.
Teams from the organization currently are traveling to various areas of the county to map out potential locations, as volunteers are sought to help address homelessness in Martinsville and Henry County. However, the organization has not yet announced when it will open or where.
That the center is needed is a certainty, according to organizers.
“Homelessness is a reality in Martinsville and Henry County,” said Michael Harrison, lead pastor of The Community Fellowship. “It looks a little different than in Greensboro or Roanoke. Most people stay off the beaten path, so it’s hard to tell how many there actually are. (The Department of Housing and Urban Development) tells us you can count these people and add about 100 to it for an accurate number.”
Any individual seeking emergency shelter during the winter months can use the Warming Center. Guests are primarily male, but females and families are welcome as well, organizers said at a Nov. 19 meeting.
On any given night of operation, the shelter serves between three to 15 guests. There is no limit on how many nights a guest can stay.
The center operates from 7 p.m. until 8 a.m. Overnight guests are accepted between 7 and 9 p.m. Dinner also is served during that time. The doors are locked at 9 p.m., and guests get settled for the night. According to Harrison, guests are still allowed in after this time but they must be brought in by law enforcement officers.
To maintain the shelter, organizers are asking for a little help from the community.
“We always could use people to provide meals,” said Cristen Anderson, lead for the project. “Possibly our biggest need is people willing to volunteer overnight.”
In total, there are three main roles a volunteer can fill with the center. They can provide meals, assist with the intake of individuals or volunteer overnight. Overnight volunteers are responsible for closing the doors at the appropriate time, waking the guests up and feeding them breakfast, and notifying dispatch of the total number of guests for the night. In addition, this year the warming center is asking for donated vehicles that can be used to help with transportation.
While the location of the center has not been determined, transportation will be needed from the designated pick-up location — in front of the Blue Ridge Regional Library — to the shelter. Harrison said mechanics have volunteered to fix donated vehicles that may have maintenance issues.
The shelter is funded through donations from the community. Financial donations are coveted, but items such as water-proof gloves and new undergarments also are needed, organizers said.
The Warming Center partners with local social service agencies, churches and organizations to spread the word to potential people in need. Flyers, road signs, social media and other communication methods also are used.
“Right now, we can’t be open full time because of certain fire protection standards that our buildings must meet,” said Harrison. “Our goal is to one day have a 365-day open shelter.”
The center’s primary concern is to ensure optimal health and safety for all guests, staff and nearby neighbors. The center aims to do this on a foundation of respect, dignity, and welcome for all guests, despite individual experiences and challenges.
“There is a need for hope in this community,” said Harrison. “We need to tell people that they matter. Not only do we have a place for them to stay but also a face to talk to and let them know they are important.”
Training and information is available for volunteers. Schedules will be posted either via social media or email. For additional questions or information, contact Anderson at (276) 358-1755 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.