The Upper Valley Haven was founded in 1980 by five individuals who were clergy and parishioners of St. Paul’s and St. James’ Episcopal Churches in White River Junction and Woodstock, respectively. They saw that the old farmhouse located adjacent to St. Paul’s was for sale, and wanted to turn the run-down, neglected building into a place that could be used as a place for those in need.
Over the next year, the founding group met weekly to pray and discuss their ideas for the Haven. Wanting to be an ecumenical organization, they started to involve members from other churches, including the Methodist, Congregational, and Catholic churches. And on December 14, 1981, the Haven opened its doors to its first guest family, ironically the “Bishops.”
Because of the vision of these founders, thousands of families have been helped by the Haven during their crises of homelessness. Now the Haven is run by all different types of people who come from a variety of backgrounds. Over the years, our programs have grown dramatically to meet the needs of the Upper Valley community. A Food Shelf and Clothing Room were added in 1983, and Educational Programming was added in 1989. In 1983, the Food Shelf served 327 families per year. Now, the Food Shelf serves over three times as many families than that every month.
The Haven Family Shelter, Food Shelf and Clothing Room moved into a new building on Hartford Avenue in White River Junction in May 2004. In addition to doubling the capacity of its shelter to eight families, it also enabled the Haven to provide its other services more efficiently and abundantly.
While the Family Shelter provided emergency shelter solutions for families with children, the need for another shelter for those without children was apparent, and could not be ignored. While the Haven began the search for a place for such a shelter, another group created the 10 Bricks Cold Weather Program at Tri-County Community Action Council to provide emergency shelter in the months of worst weather. For six winters 10 Bricks staff, Board and other volunteers carried out the mission of protecting the most vulnerable while waiting for this new shelter to become a reality. 10 Bricks retired their program in spring of 2010, entrusting their knowledge and wisdom to Haven staff as they began the year round provision of shelter services for adults on the very site where the farmhouse stood. The Adult Shelter building project which was completed in May 2010, is a renovation of the Hixon House addition to the farmhouse plus LEED energy efficient construction. With ten bedrooms for twenty guests, offices for staff, and welcoming public spaces, the Adult Shelter allows the Haven to offer support and services to adults and couples needing to move forward in life.
Coincidentally, in October 2008, just as the Hixon House Adult Shelter site was confirmed and the campaign was transitioning into the public phase, the economy began its drastic downturn. As unemployment rose, so did the Food Shelf and Shelter numbers, because many Upper Valley community members began struggling to sustain housing and jobs. The recession did not discriminate; the Haven began seeing a significant number of families from the middle class who were struck by situational poverty; which differs from generational poverty; and brought with it increased demand and unique complexities. As part of our response to this need, we added Community Case Management services to assist people with immediate solutions and brief interventions to assist them in moving forward and avoiding homelessness.
In the fall of 2010 the Haven, just months after the Hixon House Adult Shelter opened, the former family shelter host house was named the Beverly Fowle Fiertz Community Center, or Bev’s House, in memory of Beverly Fowle Fiertz. Its rooms were converted to offer community meeting space and foster expressive arts opportunities and support for legal services, in keeping with Bev’s priorities. It also has become the home of our Children’s After School Program and two administrative offices.
On August 28th, Tropical Storm Irene devastated the Upper Valley. This unexpected natural disaster drastically increased demand on the Haven’s staff and programs; and on our food, supplies and financial resources. Since early October 2011, we have participated on the steering committee of Upper Valley Strong, a group of organizations working together as the regional Long Term Recovery Committee to get Upper Valley citizens affected by Tropical Storm Irene back on their feet. We have chaired the case management group for Upper Valley Strong.