The Haven Renews Its Vigilance
Ceremony Honors Deaths of Homeless
Tiffany LaDeau, 8, left, huddles with her brother Jayden, 6, during a candlelight vigil for people who have died within the last year while experiencing homelessness in the Twin States, outside The Upper Valley Haven in White River Junction on Tuesday. The siblings moved into The Haven about a month and a half ago with their mother, Brandy Moses. “It’s really sad that people die from homelessness and hunger,” said Moses. “It’s important to get my kids involved and let them know what could have happened if it wasn’t for The Haven.” Valley News
— Elijah Nouvelage Purchase photo reprints »
Dan Falcone, center, leads a group of North Country Chordsmen in a rendition of Silent Night at The Haven in White River Junction, Vt. on December 10, 2013. The group performed for visitirs, residents and volunteers during an open house as part of a tour of area group homes. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage) Purchase photo reprints »
White River Junction — Every time the bitter knife of a breeze snuffed a candle on the front lawn of The Upper Valley Haven last night, a staff member, a supporter, or a guest of the homeless shelter turned to his or her neighbor and re-lit the flame.
Finally, the critical mass of burning wicks gave The Haven’s director of community services and operations enough light — an hour after the earliest sunset of the year — to recite the names from the list she had compiled of people who have died homeless in New Hampshire and Vermont in 2013.
So far …
“Mark Lufkin,” Jennifer Fontaine began, referring to a 39-year-old man who died in April of injuries suffered in a fight at a homeless camp in Concord. “Paul Tinkham. Roland Vezina. Paul Faune. Scott Jackson. Morris “Tex” Richardson. William Cook. Frank Sproul. Kelly Thomas. Richard Poquette. Alex Hansen. And three people for whom there were only first names: Ron. Butch. Rose.”
After closing the annual vigil with a moment of silence, Haven Executive Director Sara Kobylenski shepherded the gathering of several dozen — 70 had RSVPed — into the warmth and light of the building where she and her staff offer counseling, food, clothing, and guidance toward housing and social services.
Before joining them for cocoa, coffee, cookies and carol-singing with the North Country Chordsmen, she followed Haven case manager Nancy Chase to the path leading between the parking lots of The Haven and of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. There, Chase nestled one of the cupped candles next to a sign reading, “Alex’s Way,” named for a homeless man of few words and undiagnosed afflictions who stayed two winters at The Haven’s Hixon House for single adults before disappearing in April 2012.
“We were never quite sure what he would try to say, but what we found in him was this most gentle soul, this caring person,” Kobylenski recalled. “He would give little gifts of whatever he could find to people that were just right for that person, to the staff, to guests. Anybody he saw more than once.
“People miss him. He was truly a person we could only help to be better in the moment. We couldn’t help him make the big changes in his life.”
The staff and The Haven’s 650 volunteers hope to do more for shelter guests such as Kayla Wilson and her 5-year-old daughter Shyanne, who moved into the Byrne House for families in November, after what Wilson describes as a break-up with the boyfriend whose apartment they shared.
“I had nowhere else to turn,” Wilson said last night. “My fear was, I was going to end up in my car and losing my daughter. I’d been coming here for food and clothes for four or five years, but this is my first experience with the shelter. I thought it was one of those where you wouldn’t have your own room, your own space. It was a lot different from the things I had heard about shelters.”
Now Wilson is on a waiting list for housing. The staff members help her set up appointments for job counseling and other services — and play games with Shyanne when she’s dealing with one obligation or another. “They’ve been so helpful here,” Wilson said. “They make (Shyanne) feel at home.”
In fiscal year 2013, The Haven housed 41 families — including 70 children — in Byrne House, and 118 adults — 19 of them veterans — at Hixon House. The Haven’s Food Shelf, more than a third of which needed restocking last night, provided non-perishables to 3,611 households, and 8,187 people found clothing against the cold.
And once guests move out, The Haven keeps tabs on as many as they can.
“After we get people placed in housing, we need to continue to support them,” Nancy Chase said. “It goes on for quite a few years, until they begin to feel comfortable, and are not worrying every single day.”
David Corriveau can be reached at email@example.com and at 603-727-3304.