Haven for Hope: Spreading the Holiday Spirit Year-Round

Published 9:22 am Tuesday, December 22, 2015

by U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas

As we celebrate this holiday season, I’d like to tell you about a place in San Antonio that captures the holiday spirit of caring year-round.

After Peter lost his job, he found himself living a life he never imagined: seemingly all at once, he was living on the street, using drugs, and without anywhere to turn. He’d lost his friends in his downward spiral, and shame and guilt prevented him from asking his family for help.

But fortunately for Peter, in his hometown was a nationally-renowned transformation center meant to help people just like him. The non-profit Haven for Hope helps people down on their luck not only get back on their feet, but also empowers them to give back to the community that lifted them up.

Peter had hit rock bottom when he finally sought help at Haven for Hope. He worked with a case manager to develop a personalized plan, beginning with a 90-day in-house recovery program.  Peter received on-site treatment that cured his addiction, and medical care to restore his overall physical health.  But most important for Peter was the restoration of his faith in himself.  Healthy, clean, and on the path to independence, Peter was eventually able to reunite with his estranged family.

Peter’s story is just one of nearly 8,000 Texans who have sought out Haven for Hope for shelter, restoration, and hope over the last five years, ranging from those in a rough patch, to those just released from prison, to the chronically homeless.

Having visited the facility, I can tell you Haven for Hope truly lives up to its name.

Located just west of downtown San Antonio, Haven for Hope’s 22-acre campus can sleep 1,500 people on any given night, but as Peter quickly found out, the facility is much more than a shelter.

Just like Peter, each individual or family that comes through the doors of Haven for Hope’s Transformational Resource Center first meets with a case manager to put together a specialized transformation plan based on the medical, legal, educational, employment, and other services offered that would most benefit them.  To meet their specific needs, Haven for Hope guests’ first step could be to enroll in a class to prepare for the GED exam, get help with a job application, or receive critical medical care.

All-in-all, Haven for Hope partners with 92 different agencies to offer over 150 specialized services, ensuring a comprehensive transformation for each of their guests.

For example, the San Antonio Food Bank’s on-site facility not only serves three healthy meals a day there, but also offers an opportunity for guests to earn a certificate in Culinary Arts. As a testament to the effectiveness of this partnership, graduates can go on to find jobs in the food service industry; one graduate is now a pastry chef at a hotel in downtown San Antonio.

While guests work on personal improvement, Haven for Hope provides long-term living quarters for individuals and families.  And for those who prefer temporary, anonymous shelter, the Courtyard allows guests to lock up their belongings while they sleep safely inside a guarded gate.  Guests of the Courtyard are offered a hot shower and a hot meal, and the door is left open for them to explore the other programs Haven for Hope has to offer whenever they feel ready.

All of these life-changing services Haven for Hope offers come at no cost to the guests.  However, many choose to give back by working at the facility or by donating when they are able to get back on their feet, a truly touching testament of the hope the center provides.

Part of Haven for Hope’s success stems from their unwavering positivity.  Employees don’t let individuals dwell on past or present troubles.  Through a technique Haven for Hope calls ‘motivational interviewing’, guests are taught instead to focus on their desire to improve, and more importantly, their power to change.

Haven for Hope has succeeded in slowing down the revolving door of homelessness by treating the whole person.  Their model of empowerment has helped the city of San Antonio make great strides in reducing homelessness.  Since its opening in 2010, more than 2,400 Haven for Hope graduates have moved into permanent housing.  Haven for Hope notes that homelessness in downtown San Antonio has dropped by 80 percent since the center’s inception.  And through a partnership with the Center for Health Care Services, San Antonio Police officers can divert some of those in need to Haven for Hope instead of a public jail or emergency room, which Haven for Hope estimates saves the city about $1 million per year.

And for a personal testament to their success, look no further than Peter, who has graduated from the program.  He has moved into permanent housing on his own, yet still refers to Haven for Hope fondly as “home sweet home.” Peter is now a full-time employee of Haven for Hope, helping people who face challenges he was all too familiar with not long ago.

Senator John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas, is a member of the Senate Judiciary and Finance Committees.