FAIRMONT — Some folks want to commit to a full recovery program. For many, they just need a warm bed for the night.

In 2020, the Union Mission couldn’t provide the same, short-term shelter for homeless individuals due to concerns of spreading COVID-19 to their clients going through recovery, so they had to come up with a solution.

November 2020, in the bottom of a building on the Cleveland Street side of their complex, the Mission installed eight beds to let folks come in off the street and out of the cold. The beds have been open every night since from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.

“We couldn’t bring people into the Mission and risk exposing people to COVID,” said George Batten, executive director of the Union Mission. “We’ve gone through the whole [pandemic] with not one case, glory to God, not a single case of COVID.”

Batten says that he believes the warm room played an important part in keeping those who may have been infected separate from those who were in the Mission’s recovery system and workspace.

The room is still open, but as the summer heat comes along, it’s turning more into a cold room. According to Batten, the room usually serves an average of six guests a night. Since the room opened in November, there’s always been at least one person taking advantage of it.

Anyone who needs a bed to sleep on for the night can come, check in, and stay until morning. For someone to stay in what’s called “the upstairs” portion of the Mission, which is the main building, there’s usually a vetting process where they must be alcohol and drug free. COVID-19 added the additional barrier of a 10-day quarantine.

“There is no criteria,” Batten said. “When we were bringing them into the [main] building, we were touchy about them being under the influence of alcohol. Only requirement downstairs is they can’t be a danger to themselves or others.”

A judgment-free place to get out of the elements and spend the night was a big need and something Fairmont was missing until the Mission opened the room.

“It makes a lot of difference,” said Joseph Eagle, a member of the Union Mission who works the desk in the warm room. “People coming in from the cold and it gets them out of the elements.”

The Mission has described the warm room as a “low barrier” facility. Since their normal programs are a bit more rigorous and committal, the easy-to-access shelter provided by the warm room does make a difference.

“I think it’s helped people,” Eagle said. “Sometimes it helps people to just have a place to go for one night. We have a few people who are regulars and come in almost every night.”

In the coming months, the Mission plans to add a shower room to the facility and a washer and dryer for the occupants.

“Most of those who come in are grateful,” Eagle said. “I see it as a Godly thing to do. You help your brother like you’d want helped.”

The Mission was iffy on the idea of installing a warm room in the first place. When the idea for a warm room was initially presented by the Mission, Batten said the Mission didn’t want any part in it. But since seeing the impact the room has had, he’s changed his opinion.

“Now look, here we are, a year later, and I’m telling you this is the best thing we ever did,” Batten said.

Reach David Kirk at 304-367-2522 or by email at dkirk@timeswv.com.

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