For anyone passing by, the Haven House on West DuBois Avenue looks like a regular, roadside residence.
It’s much more than that.
Haven House shelter on West DuBois Avenue serves Clearfield, Jefferson and Elk counties, encompassing four bedrooms that provide a warm, safe place for adults and children to stay during tough times.
Haven House Director Kelli Williams can recall 12 years ago when she was applying for jobs, and when she got tired, she prayed for direction. The next day, a friend from Haven House called her about a temporary position. She began both working and volunteering at least 40 hours there.
The shelter also is a hub of resources, pointing people in the right direction as much as it can, Williams says.
Keith Smith, a former insurance broker, is president of the shelter’s board of directors — a position he sort of stumbled into by mistake. He began as a volunteer, and soon ended up in a higher position.
“This is the most important thing I did in my life,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of different jobs, but seeing people come in here and watching Kelli bring them back to life again — that’s very special.”
About 800 people have “restarted” their lives through Haven House, Smith said. There is a basic “30-day stay” rule, but depending on the person’s situation, that is sometimes extended.
About four to five years ago, the shelter received its add-on for the handicapped bathroom and bedroom area, Williams said, which added three more beds.
Williams initiated the “Fresh Start” program, too, which is a government-funded effort that helps people who don’t live at the shelter with costs like first-month’s rent or a security deposit.
There is always a need for volunteers, she adds, who would be there from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends to watch over the house. Donations of items like paper products, towels and wash cloths are also welcomed.
Williams has some rules she doesn’t budge on, she says. House members are assigned daily chores to keep things clean and in order, and those staying there must be actively working to better themselves, whether it means applying for school, assistance, a job or finding an apartment to live in.
The chores not only get the housemates working together, but teach them discipline and structure, Williams says. Part of the shelter’s mission is to make sure everyone feels included.
“Every one of these people is special to us,” Smith said. “You become part of their family in less than three days.”
Homelessness can happen to anyone, Williams says, such as a family who lost their house in a fire or has their utilities shut off. Others experience losing their job or health or mental issues.
Haven House runs on fundraisers and donations, such as the Brittany Baird Memorial Poker Run held each summer. Dominion Energy Transmission Inc (DETI) has also donated a large sum of money to the shelter for two years now.
“This is a never-ending job of raising money,” Smith said. “There are a lot of people in this town who you can reach out to for help when you need it.”
Sue Herr, of DuBois, was a guest of the Haven House years ago, and now returns to volunteer.
“This place offers a lot of opportunities for people,” she said. “I’m very grateful for the guidance and resources they provided me with.”
Herr often volunteers there on her bad days, bringing herself “back to center,” she says.
After experiencing some mental health setbacks, Herr needed a “reset on life,” she says. Haven House provided her a “stepping stone,” or a safe place with a roof over her head, where she could focus on her goals.
“Anyone can hand you everything, but it takes special people to show you how to help yourself,” she said. “The best part of the experience was the empowerment it gives you.”
Herr also appreciated the structure and fellowship provided there.
“You can look at someone else’s circumstances, and it gives you perspective on your own life,” she said. “We are all fighting a similar fight.”