Cornerstones: Volunteers returning to assist with hypothermia prevention shelter in Reston

The North County Human Services Building at 1850 Cameron Glen Drive in Reston provides space for a hypothermia prevention shelter during the winter (Photo via Google Maps)

COVID-19 vaccines mean volunteers are coming back to help a warming shelter in Reston.

The nonprofit Cornerstones had a moratorium on volunteers for safety, but it’s been welcoming them back incrementally since August. They’re a key part of the hypothermia shelter at the North County Human Services Center (1850 Cameron Glen Drive), which assists the county’s hypothermia prevention program.

“Our volunteers are coming back. And we’re so happy to have them back because we haven’t had them in over a year,” said Khristina Koontz, who heads homeless services for the nonprofit Cornerstones.

Cornerstones started with volunteers last year, but due to COVID-19, and many of its volunteers being older, the organization clamped down on using volunteers unless it was holding an outdoor event.

Volunteers can now return to facilities if they’re vaccinated and wear masks indoors, and they’ve already been trickling in, according to the organization.

That’s not the only change for Cornerstones as its service organization and others seek to move past the pandemic. In addition, Koontz said they’re doubling their hypothermia case managers from two to four to help find long-term housing for as many people as they can.

While the hypothermia prevention program officially begins Tuesday, running from Dec. 1 until March 31, Cornerstones accepts people starting in November and has already done so this year.

But 24/7 coverage last winter will change for several sites. For the North County Human Services Center, it will return back to operating during overnight hours, from 5 p.m. to 7 a.m., reverting to a pre-pandemic schedule. Several other county sites are mirroring that: County spokesperson Ben Boxer said in an email that the extended coverage was because most businesses and public facilities were closed or had limited public access due to COVID-19.

“We did it [for] 24 hours because we didn’t want people to go somewhere, contract COVID and come back, give it to people,” said Koontz, noting declines in COVID-19 numbers this year have led to changes.

For Cornerstones, the organization began its annual “no turn away” policy beginning Nov. 15, officials said, meaning people needing a place to weather the cold could visit the Embry Rucker Community Shelter (11975 Bowman Towne Drive) during the day, an additional area of coverage beyond its normal overnight hours.

The hypothermia shelter has a capacity of 25 people for single adults, and the Embry Rucker shelter has a capacity of 47, which provides for individuals and families, according to the organization.

“As the time progresses, we’re almost full — at capacity — like every night,” said Milton Rodriguez, an outreach worker with Cornerstones.

The organization is encouraging people to donate to help those in need with basic supplies ranging from socks to boots and other clothing, said Missy Norquest, supervisor for the hypothermia program and an outreach worker for Cornerstones.

Items can be dropped off at the Embry Rucker shelter. The organization has created a “wish list” of items they especially need, which includes the following items:

  • wool socks, sweatshirts, T-shirts, underwear, insulated gloves/mittens, ponchos, umbrellas, wash clothes, sweatpants, insulated hats, stocking caps, hand and foot warmers
  • granola bars, bottled water, juice, ground coffee, ginger ale, tea bags, hot chocolate, bagels, cheese crackers, instant oatmeal, saltines, pretzels, chips, breakfast bars, trail mix, milk, apple sauce, muffins, ramen noodles, individual cereal servings
  • Styrofoam cups and bowls, paper plates, plasticware, Ziploc bags, salt and pepper, packets for mustard, ketchup and mayonnaise, Lysol air freshener, hand sanitizer, disinfecting spray, napkins, paper towels, 50 gallon garbage bags, large Tupperware, sugar and sweetener packets, wet wipes, dish detergent, foot powder, disinfecting wipes, quart-size plastic bins, floor cleaner and
  • housewarming basket items for families moving into affordable housing that cover the following items: laundry baskets, dish towels and potholders, silverware, can openers, plastic cups, bowls and plates, toilet brush and cleaner, hangers, broom and dustpan, shower curtain and rings, light bulbs, paper towels, toilet paper and a range of cleaning supplies.

When people leave Cornerstones, they get help with their security deposits and rent, and clients express gratitude about how there’s someone who cares about them, taking time to work with them and engage in conversation with them.

“Some people just need a leg up,” Norquest. “They’re homeless because they can’t get a security deposit and a first month’s rent. So when we can just help them with that, it’s like a huge weight lifted off their shoulders.”

Photo via Google Maps

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