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New Watertown group working on facility for the homeless

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WATERTOWN — Local homeless people currently have no place they can stay during the coldest of winter nights.

But that could be changing.

A group of local activists, calling themselves Watertown Area Rescue Mission, or WARM, is working to establish a homeless center that would be open from October through April.

Wendy O’Donnell, WARM’s co-executive director, stressed that the center would not be a homeless shelter. It would provide a place to rest from the cold, a place Jefferson County doesn’t have.

The center would not be open 24/7, but would be a place where homeless people can get something warm to eat at night, shower, do laundry, have somewhere to sleep and then get some breakfast in the morning.

“It’s a warming center,” Ms. O’Donnell said, adding that it would not be open during the day, only when it’s most needed. “October to April are the seven coldest months of the year.”

The group hopes to open the center by October, though WARM is still looking for a location. Homeless centers are typically housed in church basements, but WARM could not find a local church that would accommodate the program, said Seth B. Buchman, legal counsel for the group’s board of directors.

The board members are considering two locations, but Ms. O’Donnell declined to identify them until a place is selected.

She’s expecting backlash from opponents who will not want the center to be in their neighborhood.

WARM began working on the center before the COVID-19 pandemic, which has only made homelessness worse, she said.

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