Shenandoah offers armory building for homeless shelter

shenandoah universityShenandoah University’s former National Guard Armory Building will serve as a shelter for local homeless individuals.

The Winchester Rescue Mission, through a partnership with the university, will use the armory as a temporary emergency shelter for up to 40 COVID-19-free individuals who are experiencing homelessness or who have become displaced as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The emergency shelter came about as the rescue mission continues to experience an increase in need due to the pandemic. Shenandoah President Tracy Fitzsimmons, Ph.D., approved the conversion of the armory space as a way to help.

“During this difficult time, we see it as our mission to not only take care of our students, faculty and staff, but also our local community,” said Dr. Fitzsimmons. “We hope to do that by providing our armory building as temporary shelter to those whose need is great, and what better space to offer than a building that has provided aid throughout history, including during World War II.”

The armory building on Millwood Avenue opened on Dec. 8, 1940, and was the first armory in Virginia. In recent years, its use has been limited to batting and golf practice areas for Shenandoah student-athletes. Recently, a portion of the building was renovated into an esports arena.

The 6,000-square-foot emergency shelter space will have high-speed Internet access and gender-separated showers and bathrooms. It will also include a kitchen space, a gymnasium and a few offices. The kitchen space will not be used for food preparation but mainly as a room to hold food and serve it through a stainless steel pass-through window.

To make the building livable and bring it up to code, officials repaired the water heater, de-winterized the plumbing system, upgraded some lighting, made sure the showers were operational, installed smoke detectors in any space where someone might be sleeping, and ensured emergency exit signs were illuminated and fire extinguishers readily available.

The shelter space will be available through the end of June.

The project is a joint effort of Shenandoah University, The Winchester Rescue Mission, city of Winchester, Frederick County, the Western Virginia Continuum of Care, Winchester Area Temporary Thermal Shelter (WATTS) and the United Way of the Northern Shenandoah Valley.

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