Because of the efforts of the Winchester Rescue Mission, Winchester is leading the way in innovative solutions to homelessness. Director Brandan Thomas shares that homelessness is not always a result of poverty. In fact, broken relationships are the leading cause of homelessness. Relationships are what hold us together when things fall apart, having someone to call, a place to rest our heads until we are back on our feet.
Those who suffer from mental health issues and substance misuse are prone to destroying their relationships, which often leads to families and friends distancing themselves, leaving people with no safety nets. According to Brandan, the path to chronic homelessness takes approximately seven years, leaving a lot of time to intervene and help on a community level with the right resources in place.
With this understanding, the Winchester Rescue Mission has rejected the traditional housing first paradigm which aims to get homeless people into affordable housing as soon as possible while ignoring mental health and substance misuse.
Instead, the Rescue Mission has created a trauma-informed model of care that is focused on long-term success. Employing ten people, including a certified counselor and a registered social worker, allows the team to create personal success plans. The system is based on behavior rather than time, allowing individuals to focus on themselves instead of a timeline that may be impossible to keep. “I want to be in the business of helping people dream,” Brandan says. Other towns are acknowledging the Winchester Rescue Mission’s program’s effectiveness, with Brandan and his team being asked to go around the country to speak about their work.
A large part of the Winchester Rescue Mission is also community, rebuilding connections and skills so residents have a firm foundation when they graduate to their own housing.
The local homeless issue is significant. In June of 2023, the Rescue Mission distributed approximately 6000 meals. The Mission routinely turns away 10-15 people in need of housing each day, so a planned expansion on Valley Ave will house an additional 50 residents. In addition to the personnel, it requires 20-25 volunteers every day to run the facility and its programs. New volunteers are always needed and there is a monthly information session to learn how you can help.
If you want to help the Winchester Rescue Mission as a volunteer or a contributor, go to Winrescue.org or stop by 435 N Cameron St.