The Waystation is Way Cool!
A shower, a bed and a community: These are three values that COTS’ Waystation stands by.
“We try to limit activities that happen at here,” Waystation Manager Aurora Lenz-Watson said. “This is a space where guests can relax and sleep. We try to keep it really quiet and calm for the most part.”
This is COTS’ original program, providing emergency shelter for single adults since 1982. The Waystation is located in downtown Burlington, and if you didn’t know the address, you wouldn’t know it was there.
“Keeping our buildings anonymous is important for our guests. We don’t want anyone to feel concerned about utilizing our services,” Development Database Manager Gillian Taylor said.
Inside the building, narrow neutral-toned hallways lead toward two large bunk bed-lined rooms, and a staircase that empties into a walkout basement. On the lower level, four large washers and dryers stack against one wall, along with a kitchenette and two plush leather couches facing a television.
“We’re actually hoping to get a third couch. When the weather is inhabitable and the beds are full, we let people sleep on the couches and in chairs,” Lenz-Watson said.
Waystation guests can stay until they are permanently housed, as long as they follow the shelter’s guidelines. And, when a bed is vacated, it is filled immediately. While there are rules at the Waystation, this framework is intended to ensure good health and safety in a congregate shelter setting and reduce opportunities for conflict.
Prior to their arrival at the Waystation, guests may have spent weeks to a few months outdoors.
Upon arrival, guests are handed a change of clean clothing. Being able to have access to clean clothing is important to the Waystation’s rehabilitation process. Sanitary garments are needed to maintain a job, feel confident and function in modern society.
According to Lenz-Watson, having the ability to provide comfortable clothing is a necessary piece of the Waystation’s welcome to new arrivals.
While the guest showers, and learns about the Waystation’s regulations, their personal items are washed and dried. This is to prevent a bedbug infestation and maintain a clean environment.
The commercial-grade washing machines are new to the Waystation. Attained through a grant, the addition was a much needed relief for the group.
“Our old washers were abysmal. At least one was usually broken, and people’s clothes would smell bad after going through the cycle. Sometimes we would dry them and discover new stains,” Lenz-Watson said. “It wasn’t a great feeling to give people back their items in that condition.”
The Waystation has a men’s dorm (with 28 beds) and a women’s dorm (with 8 beds). In general, women who are homeless are likely to be with children (and thus served in COTS family shelter) or to have recently left an abusive situation (and thus helped by Steps to End Domestic Violence).
That said, Lenz-Watson remarked: “If we had more beds for women, they would be full. For either gender, they would be full. If space is available, people will come.”
As the Waystation continues to serve the community, it frequently collects information for its guests.
“We have weekly meetings, and people will often tell us things that we need to change. For a while, I advocated to remove the rules that seemed unnecessary (example: timing showers), but the guests said they enjoyed the structure,” Lenz-Watson said. “We didn’t realize how tired people are when they arrive, and they really just want to sleep, so now — after they shower — we just run through basic rules with guests, and let them rest.”
Stacked in a tiny pile on Lenz-Watson’s desk is “The Survivor’s Guide to the Burlington Area.” Filled with phone numbers and addresses for shelters, food banks, crisis services, community services, legal services, counseling services, medical assistance and veterans resources, the booklet is handed to every guest that enters the Waystation. (COTS also distributes these “Survivor Guides” through our other programs and community partners. If you would like to receive any information, call us at 802-864-7402.)
The Survivor Guide is given along with an area map, in hopes that visitors will connect with community partners and resources, too.
“People really just need things to keep them going. We run the showers constantly, and we will let people that aren’t staying the night use our showers, so we run through curtains pretty quickly,” Lenz-Watson said.
Lenz-Watson enjoys her position at the Waystation, and identifies as an ally of the homeless community.
“I think I’m part of a community, wherever I walk, I see folks I know, and I say ‘hi’ to them, and they say ‘hi’ to me,” Lenz-Watson said. “I think that’s the part that surprised me the most when I was first hired. Everyone who comes here recognizes the sense of cohesion — that we’re all going towards the same goal — and it makes it a pleasant environment.”
To donate items to the Waystation — or COTS — please reference our wish list.
COTS is only able to accept new items. If you would like to make a donation, please consider: new blankets, new towels and new toiletries—especially the small travel-sized ones—as well as XL (or larger) clothing, plastic shower curtains and coffee.
To volunteer at COTS, please contact our Community Outreach and Volunteer Specialist Sian Leach (802-864-7402, Ext. 207).