The Haven battles rising homelessness

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 On January 26, members of the Thomas Jefferson Area Coalition for the Homeless (TJACH) spent the day counting beds in local homeless shelters, noting how many were occupied. After that, they moved on to lines at local soup kitchens, groups in day shelters and public parks. By the time they finished, they had counted 219 homeless adults and 28 children in shelters, and a total homeless population in the Thomas Jefferson Planning District of 274 people, with 48 percent identifying Charlottesville as their hometown.

Kaki Dimock, pictured inside The Haven shelter’s sanctuary, is executive director for the Thomas Jefferson Area Coalition for the Homeless. She says that eviction was the top reason for lost housing among last year’s homeless population. This year, “it’s unemployment, by a mile,” a reason cited in 39 percent of the 210 surveys completed by area homeless.

The annual “Point-in-Time” census, published each year by TJACH, “reveals an increase in the number of people identified as homeless and an increase in the number of homeless individuals who report being unsheltered,” according to an accompanying report. Since the 2009 census, the number of sheltered adults rose by 28, while the number of children reported homeless by area schools rose to 394 from 327.

The Haven, a day shelter located in the First Street Church on Market Street, opened eight days before the January 26 census date. “Our first three weekends were emergency weekends,” says Kaki Dimock, executive director for TJACH as well as The Haven. During the winter’s heavy snowfall, Dimock stayed in a hotel near the Downtown Mall to keep the shelter open; the number of patrons reached into the 70s.

During a recent walk through The Haven, Dimock shares a few problems with the census’ methodology: It’s hard to adequately cover the homeless community in a single day or through the population of a single shelter. “Providers identified several difficult-to-reach populations,” read the census report. Such discoveries “will inform our 2011 Point-In-Time survey process.”

Is The Haven adequately equipped to deal with the increase in the homeless population? The kitchen seats 80 people, and roughly 52 people arrive each day for breakfast. The walk-in refrigerator contains lots of high protein ingredients, including several boxes of 30-dozen eggs from the Local Food Hub. (The Haven offers something egg-based every day, says Dimock.) There are 70 plastic storage containers for patrons to keep their items, and 88 people have signed up to receive their mail at The Haven’s address.

Dimock grew up in North Garden, in southern Albemarle County, and says she has been involved in social services “since the get-go.” She calls The Haven a “low-barrier” place—a drunk patron will not be shown the door, but rather have his behavior addressed by a group of patrons when he is in a receptive state.

And many of the patrons seem ready to dispense corrective advice. In the kitchen is what Dimock calls the “quote book,” where patrons can leave thoughts to be shared with one another, possibly to be added to the chalkboard near the meal line. Some of the entries include thoughts like “Time to cowboy up” and “The world is just wrong without bacon.” Another reads, “Do the next right thing”—which may be easier with The Haven going full steam.

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