For the better part of a decade, 19 Wainscott Ave. and the Clark County Homeless Coalition have been keys in fighting homelessness in Winchester and Clark County, and Executive Director Terry Davidson has been on the frontlines.
“Sometimes it seems like yesterday and some times it feels like 100 years ago,” Davidson said.
Homelessness is not a simple issue, or one that is easily rectified.
“It’s not just because they are lazy,” she said. “It’s not just because they don’t have a job. It’s very complicated.”
In the shelter’s eight-year history, about 350 people have stayed with CCHC. The average stay is four months, though one man stayed for two years. Some people leave and come back multiple times before the program really sinks in and things click, she said.
“It’s a lot for a little town,” she said. “The need hasn’t diminished.”
Davidson, who moved here in 1991 with husband Gary and then infant daughter Alix, said the moment of awakening came in 2009.
“My girls both went to the magnet program at Conkwright,” she said. “Every day I drove the same route. A lot of that area around Conkwright is a very impoverished area.”
On one frigid January day in 2009, she saw one of the magnet program students going home in that area of town.
“… I saw a girl wearing a (magnet) uniform walking into a house,” she said. “The water heater was sitting on the front porch. Several of the windows had blue Styrofoam instead of windows. There was no way that house could be very warm. The water heater on the porch meant they probably didn’t have hot water.
“That’s what stuck with me and wouldn’t let me turn a blind eye any more.”
Within a matter of months, the Coalition was officially open to families and others who were homeless.
For Davidson, there’s more to the coalition and its mission than just offering shelter.
“You can always put a roof over someone’s head,” she said. “If they choose to leave because of other reasons, then have you really made a difference? We’re looking at some of the bigger issues and how do we become a catalyst for change in our community.
“Our mission hasn’t changed. Our world is changing very fast and we have to respond to that. We try to come up with creative ideas and solutions to help things change.”
The coalition’s program is designed to give clients the tools to succeed after leaving. Clients have responsibilities while living at Wainscott Hall, including cooking, cleaning, shopping and daily classes and activities. Clients have to figure out how to solve real world problems like transportation to the store or work.
“It’s real life,” she said. “We all have to go to work and have other obligations.”
Davidson said it seems the coalition has been busier in recent months, even moreso than at the height of the recession.
More and more clients have multiple diagnoses, she said, so the coalition is working on partnerships to give clients quicker access to health care and mental health care as well.
“We’ve tweaked our programs to help clients in sobriety programs and ways we can be better for them, be more responsible and help them as quickly as possible so they can see there’s light at the end of the tunnel,” she said.
Many have already found that light and moved beyond and into a successful life, she said.
“There’s a woman who’s a veteran,” Davidson said. “She’s been homeless for 10 years in several states. She spent quite a bit of time with us. When she finally disclosed she was a veteran, we finally got her in an apartment through a veteran program. To see that change in a person, not just physical but mental health, it’s massive. She’s happy. She was not a nice person when we met. That’s huge.”
Even with the success, the need remains.
Almost a decade after that fateful January day, Davidson said her perspective on the community has changed.
“I though everything was black and white,” she said. “Now I see how much gray there is. I understand people’s struggles better.” §