Two weeks. It took me at least two weeks to believe that I had finally landed in a safe place. I wasn’t in jail. I wasn’t living in a homeless center where I feared for my life. I wasn’t in a hospital. I wasn’t sleeping rough, cold and wet on the ground. And I wasn’t somewhere where I was unprotected. I wake up each morning in a clean bright room I share with a roommate, where I can go across the hall to a bathroom with a shower and lock the door. I wake up each morning at the Upper Valley Haven, grateful to be here.
The Haven is a physical place. I am staying at the Hixon House Adult Shelter. It is a physical place where you have a room with your own key, your own closet, a shared bathroom, a book-filled library, a computer room where you are free to use the computers, a pantry for your special foods, an outside gazebo, a sign-in board so staff know if you are in or out, an airy large dining room where every night different groups of generous volunteers give their time to cook for the residents, and an organic vegetable, herb, and flower garden. Coffee and breakfast food are available 24 hours a day. Some of the residents think they have landed in “heaven” after where they have been. There is enormous gratitude for being able to stay at the Haven, to be able to recreate your life, step by step.
Not only is it a physical space, but an emotional space to recover from your past, move forward, create your future. All you have to do is ask. This is a skill I have learned to develop, because in the past I wasn’t able to ask or my request was met with a commitment of help, but was then unexpectedly withdrawn. From the people who work daily shifts to the service coordinators to the instructors (there are people to help you with resumes, financial recovery, and future planning) I have found all my requests for help answered and there was always follow through. The thread that unites all these people from the top down is a sense of authentic caring, kindness, compassion, and support for the well-being of shelter guests.
Just over two months ago, I walked out of jail with just the clothes on my back. Day after day I have worked with different staff, taking advantage of anything they had to offer. Today, I have a part-time job and am looking for an apartment. If you had told me this was possible, I’m not sure I would have believed you. Some days were very difficult—my PTSD created “overwhelm” for me, but I would ask for help or just talk to someone, and take smaller steps. This is one of the gifts of the Haven. Life is unpredictable. But when you feel safe, supported, and someone is “fighting your corner”, and you keep doing your work, it is amazing what might just happen.
This post was written in October 2016 by a guest staying in the Haven’s Hixon House Adult Shelter. When asked about an image to accompany her story, she thought about it and then suggested something quite fitting: a photo of one of the beautiful sunflowers in the Haven gardens.