Have you ever noticed the people standing near the off ramp of highway 89 in West Lebanon, or in the Walmart parking lot, asking for help through messages written on cardboard signs? In rural areas like the Upper Valley homelessness isn’t as visible as it is in cities. Here in our community the homeless sleep in tents, in the woods and under bridges; they “couch surf” at friend’s houses; or take shelter in their cars. They are hidden from our everyday lives. So yesterday when I saw a dirty, disheveled man on the corner swallowing his pride to ask for help, it broke my heart and made me wonder, “What is the Haven doing about it?” And, “What can I do to help him?”
The answer is more complicated than it may seem on the surface. Haven staff members are comfortable in stopping to talk with people along the public byways to discover what help they might appreciate or need. Any time we see, or are told of such an individual, we seek him or her out. In the greatest number of situations we learn that the individual is working hard to secure the funds he or she needs by this particular labor of time and sign. Such people do not want help from organizations; they have their own plans and strategies that work for them. We make sure they know where the Haven is located and what resources can be available, and respect the choices being made.
Other times the individual is known to us. In those instances, we discover one of two things. Sometimes the person feels he or she has “taken” too much and is reluctant to ask for more help; so we offer assurance of welcome and acceptance at the Haven for whatever is needed at that moment, including a ride to get to the Haven. Other times the person has a desire for cash for purposes not supported or provided by the Haven, and has chosen this method to secure resources. We do help with food, shelter, prescriptions, toiletries, clothing, pet food . . .many of the things presented on the signs as needs; so those are not, as a rule, the real needs of this second group.
Local police departments are also doing their part. They check with each person they see, offer help as they can, and make sure people are aware of the Haven and our resources, and that they have transportation to get to us.
Please feel free to contact us when you see individuals in need. We will always reach out to them if we have not already done so. Please feel free to follow your conscience and your heart knowing that this method of securing funds is a choice each has made, and perceives, is the best approach for them.
The Haven Through 40 Years
The Haven will commemorate its four decades of service to the region by releasing 40 stories of people, events, ideas, and services fundamental to our mission. We will be releasing these stories weekly, so check back often.