As the snowflakes begin to fall this winter most of us will be blessed enough to have a roof over our head, sip a nice cup of hot cocoa if we'd like, and even sit by a warm fireplace. For others, this won't an option. Instead of celebrating, they will worry where their next meal will come from and if they will stay warm enough and even make it through the winter.
Thanks to a local homeless shelter, The Haven of Rest, a huge burden is lifted off of the homeless.
The Haven of Rest began in 1943 with one couple who dared to make the dream that God placed in their hearts a reality. Rev. and Mrs. Charles C. Thomas's burden for the poor led them to open their hearts and welcome the homeless to stay in their own home. Starting out as a small storefront rescue mission, it has blossomed into the largest homeless center in the Summit-Portage-Medina-Stark-Tuscarawas-Wayne-Holmes county area - and a valuable asset to our community. This year they will celebrate 68 years of ministry.
Since catching up with the Haven in 2008, there have been some changes. The economy, addictions, mental illness and crisis have left even more people in crippling situations. Those at the Haven have been working to better their programs to fit the needs of people in all sorts of situations.
Having been somewhat "behind the scenes" at the Haven before, Rev. Jeff Kaiser kicked off the New Year last January as Executive Director, following Rev. Ben Walker's incredible years of service.
Kaiser has had 14 years of experience in many different areas at the Haven including Evening Supervisor, Director of the Men's Division, Residential Manager and working the 2nd shift - which has taught him a lot.
Not only do they have a new Executive Director, but changes have been made as well in their programming to fit the growing needs of the people they see every day.
Changes in both the economy and people have caused them to mold their programs to better fit their needs.
"One of the biggest changes we've seen if we go back and look into the history of the ministry is that our average age used to be anywhere between 45 and 65 , they struggled strictly with alcohol and most had religious training. What we see now is that our larger population is between 18 and 45 years old and they have multiple addictions. They're not just struggling with alcohol, its crack cocaine, prescription medication and heroin use within the last year and a half," Kaiser said.
Generational poverty flowing down through family trees, breakdown in the family structure and mental issues are also factors that have played into the increase in numbers.
"We're seeing more mental problems, lack of work ethic and lack of respect for authority. The package is a lot different than it used to be," Kaiser said.
Mental instability is very common.
"Depression is big, bipolar disorder is another area, anxiety and schizophrenia…" Kaiser said of the issues they see.
To properly care for the variety of issues their clients face, the Haven has a licensed social worker on staff and also works with Portage Path Behavioral Health and other agencies.
"We've been doing that for years and have a very good relationship with many, many, many agencies within Akron and outside communities," Kaiser shared.
Some of those they work with include H.M. Life Opportunity Services, Access, Community Support Services and The Salvation Army.
"It's just an enormous amount of people we work with. We've had some type of interaction with most organizations and we're just very fortunate that we've been here for 68 years and have such great community support," he said.
Most recently they've extended their programming so that clients can stay longer.
"Some of our programming has changed to meet the needs of the men, women and children coming here. There's more longevity and counseling that's going on," Kaiser said.
"As we work with men on the long-term plan, we're seeing that they want to stay longer- which is good," he continued, "The longer you can work with them I think there's a better chance for success. Our waiting list to be in that program is huge. Right now we're at full capacity and we just have an enormous amount of people who want to get in the program."
Additions have also been made to their women and children's home -The Harvest Home - which is offering a new social enterprise opportunity, Lydia's Purse, to empower homeless women.
"We've noticed a large increase (in numbers of homeless coming) within the last couple of years," Kaiser said of those seeking help.
Because of this they've opened a Safe Harbor unit at the Harvest Home.
"We've expanded over there just because of the fact that the need of the women has been growing," Kaiser explained.
Struggling single mothers and women facing evictions has been a trend they are seeing.
The main reason men come knocking at the Haven's door is due to addictions.
Needs are Growing
Providing clothing and meals are two of their greatest areas of growth.
"We served over 304,000 meals (this year) which is a large increase to the previous year," Kaiser said.
"In regards to nights of lodging, we're at about a little over 64,000 and we're clothing about 1,500 people a month here at the ministry," he continued.
Some aren't staying at the Haven but stop by for clothing and meals because they are struggling financially and can barely afford to pay their bills.
"What we're seeing is that some people do have housing but they're still using our resources here and it ties into the economy, the issue of paying rent or getting clothes for the kids, so they're using our resources for that. We're seeing that trend," Kaiser said.
Career Training Resources
Twenty-three men are currently enrolled in their long-term program which ranges anywhere from 8 months to over a year.
"We do have men who are working and holding jobs, so we've been very encouraged by that," Kaiser said.
They are also working with a Bible college where the men take classes online.
"We're still staying strong and there's no government funding here," Kaiser said.
They've been blessed with a 7.5 million dollar budget.
"Our support comes from the community at large and the Summit County region that we minister to. Individuals, churches, businesses… So we've been very, very fortunate in regards to our ministry and our partnership not only with businesses, but with other agencies as well. We have some great resources in the Akron community. But like I said, the need is definitely there and we see it growing," Kaiser shared.
The Haven welcomes food and clothing donations year-round which can be dropped off at their convenient drop-off center and is tax deductible. They can also use volunteers in their soup kitchen and other areas.
For more information on the Haven of Rest and volunteer opportunities please visit www.havenofrest.org .