“It’s hard to know how to navigate all the different things coming our way on the global and national stage,” Stephen Hitchcock, the executive director of The Haven told me recently. “To understand how to think well and live well in light of the systems we’re entangled in. It can feel almost paralyzing.”
That’s one of the reasons Hitchcock does the work he does, running The Haven, the downtown day shelter for homeless and extremely low-income people in the heart of Charlottesville. “To give my time and attention to this group of folks feels like a small way forward.”
Over the past few weeks, I’ve had the pleasure of spending some time at The Haven, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this January. The range of help it provides is hard to summarize: from basics like a hot breakfast, a clean pair of socks, and a warm, dry place to spend the day, to services like a walk-in medical clinic (run by UVA), free counseling, assistance in getting an ID, and an array of housing programs to help guests get and keep a permanent place to live.
More than anything, The Haven is a model of community, of kindness and respect. It runs on generosity, from the local businesses that donate food and services to the former teachers frying eggs and the one-time guests returning to give back to the place that helped them get a new start.
“To see these volunteers coming here, looking for nothing in return, you don’t get that in the world a lot,” Keavon, a recent guest, told me.
It feels like an example of the best that Charlottesville has to offer, and one that’s particularly welcome this time of year. When I asked Owen Brennan, the director of operations, why he does this work, he paused for a long time. “I think because I, on a regular basis, get glimpses of how we’re meant to live together, as human beings,” he said.
You can’t get a better Christmas message than that.