MONTROSE – In the one year that the Haven House Transitional Living Center has been open, its volunteer staff and residents have seen hardships as well as the birth of new life, but what they've seen most are second chances.
Haven House, at 4806 N. River Road in Olathe, is the only home for homeless families between Grand Junction and Durango, according to its board president, Larry Fredericksen.
Within its short lifespan, the center has helped a pregnant woman living in the streets of Ouray become a proud mother, reunited with her family, and helped a single Ridgway mother of a 4-month-old get back on her feet. And it's currently helping others, like Jennifer Andrade, the mother of three, and Crystal Johnson, the mother of a 2-month-old, finish their educations and pursue new life skills.
“It's a good place to be,” Johnson said. “A good place to take control of your life.”
Haven House was created by a group of people who are passionate about helping others.
“We got bitten by the shelter bug,” explained Carolyn Carter, one of the founders and currently, the center's field supervisor of its two caseworkers.
Carter met Fredericksen (as well as some of the other volunteers and board members of Haven House) while volunteering at Christ's Kitchen, a food kitchen in Montrose.
“We saw all these people, and all we could do was serve them lunch,” Carter remembered.
And so a board formed to create a faith-based charitable organization that could provide transitional housing for homeless families.
Modeled on Denver's Joshua Station, the Haven House had almost everything in place –except for the right location. Then, last April, the board wrapped up negotiations with the Montrose County Housing Authority to rent the empty Olathe Farm Dormitory.
The dormitory was built in 1992 through federal grants and loans, which set certain deed restrictions for its use, under the federal Housing Act of 1949. But in 2010, Rural Development accepted the authority's offer to pay off its loan early, lifting the restriction and opening up options. One of those options was a community corrections facility, but after pushback from the community, and CommCorr dropped out of the running.
The Haven House couldn't have snatched up a better facility, Carter said.
The center currently houses 26 people, but with 36 rooms, it could house up to 60 families, she said. The facility is conducive for families, featuring two rooms connected by a single bathroom, a setup that allows for privacy, but close proximity, at the same time.
Andrade, who's been at the Haven House since July, has three dorm rooms. One is used as a family area; another she shares with her daughters, and her son, 15-year-old Jonathan, has his own room.
Like all the other residents, Jonathan helps with dorm chores and participates in the educational and life-skills classes. But he also gets some privacy for activities like practicing the guitar.
Andrade, now pursuing her associate’s degree, said that Haven House has provided her with an opportunity to get ahead in her life and be able to provide for her children.
She was struggling before she came to Haven House, and remembers the first day she found out that such a place existed – after a woman approached her while she was bathing her 5-year-old in the park.
Her brush with homelessness is her reminder to work hard every day at the program, Andrade said.
Approved residents can stay at Haven House for up to two years. During that time, they get training on how to improve relationships, as well as on budgeting, cooking and nutrition. Residents have duties and responsibilities that include paying for program fees, but Haven House works with each individual based on their situation to make sure they have every opportunity to succeed.
And this has led to an unexpected outcome, Fredericksen said. “The biggest pleasant surprise is getting the families involved in the operations of Haven House,” he said. “We've created a sense of community and togetherness, and they see us all volunteer, relying on churches and individual support, and they've decided to give back, which has allowed us to operate with only a few paid staff and volunteers.”
Volunteers are still hard to come by, however, Fredericksen said.
The center is looking for a volunteer coordinator and someone equivalent to a youth minister to organize community involvement for the center's younger residents. The center also could use volunteers to help answer phones, he said.
The Haven House relies on volunteers, as it has only a $100,000 annual budget that pays for two caseworkers, utilities and $1,500 in monthly rent.
Last week, Fredericksen approached Montrose County for financial assistance (last year the county provided $30,000 to the authority to offset utility costs).
Fredericksen also is hopeful that the center can get grants to help with expenses.
To help, donate or volunteer, contact the Haven House at 325-5280 or Fredericksen at 970/626-5677.