Reflections from the Haven at Year End
New Year’s greetings,
I wanted to share the experience of the Haven’s annual ceremony marking the Candlelight Vigil for People Experiencing Homelessness. On December 21st when daylight was a memory and the Vermont cold pierced to your bones, many friends of the Haven, including staff, volunteers, local elected officials, neighbors and our shelter guests gathered in front of the Byrne Community House to remember those who were once homeless who died during the past year.
This gathering is always held on the night of the winter solstice, the longest night of the year and the beginning of winter. We held candles (battery-operated actually) to symbolize bringing light into the world on this dark night, offered a prayer, sang Amazing Grace and shared brief stories that brought to life, if for a moment, the people who are no longer with us.
There were 21 names on our list this year. All worked with a Haven Service Coordinator and received services for long or brief periods as their lives intersected with ours. Many stayed in one of our shelters one or more times. Some lived in the motels made possible through COVID funding with the Haven staff a regular presence in their lives. Others were in frequent or intermittent contact with our community outreach teams. Like many who come to the Haven, they had their mail delivered here because we were a source of stability – always present, always welcoming, never judging, ready to begin again.
It might surprise you to know that the ages of our departed friends ranged from 21 to 81 with the average age 55; mostly men, though the list included 4 women. A lot of military veterans, some parents. Many were able to achieve more stable housing with our help and their hard work. Some remained in touch with us through our supportive housing services or just because they liked to maintain the relationships they had formed. Which we did too. While they experienced these stable periods, their lives of inconsistency – in housing, employment, income, medical care, partners, friends – often dominated. They had plans, but things didn’t always work out. We think they all died much too soon. In a fairer and more equitable world, many would still be with us.
On December 21 we took time to remember them, their experiences with us, and the life stories they shared. Some tears were shed, but we took comfort in being together.
How do we carry on? For one, we know that each day that follows, the days will be a bit longer. “With hope, there is possibility” is our belief at the Haven. We see that in practice throughout the year. I recently checked our records and so far this year, 45 households served by the Haven secured permanent housing through their work and our guidance. These include guests in the adult & family shelters, people living in emergency housing in the motels, folks who stopped by the Haven and sought the help of our community service coordinators to find a home. Another 56 households were able to retain their housing and avoid homelessness through application of our service coordinators’ problem-solving skills and access to resources. Avoiding an eviction is even better than finding a new place to live as networks and relationships stay in place, changing schools avoided, as is the general trauma of experiencing homelessness, especially for children.
As we close out one year and begin another, I want to send our gratitude to everyone whom we count among our friends and supporters. This has been another amazing year of service – from our many food programs here at the Haven and in the community, to the shelters and supportive housing, to community outreach, and not to forget the children’s after school program and summer camp. The Haven staff who provide these services and supports are one of a kind. And all supported by a great administrative team and fundraising department. The numbers tell a story of increasing need reflecting an economy that is generating too much of some things (inflation) and not enough of others (affordable housing). And the people with the least are affected the most. And that’s where the Haven comes in – always ready, always welcoming, always hopeful.
My very best wishes to you for a wonderful holiday season and a Happy New Year.