Havenplace is a place where an average of 35-40 patrons a night find acceptance and learn trust. It is where teens and young adults are encouraged to put signed handprints on the wall. The handprints show ownership in something bigger.
There are many needs in the community and many agencies to help meet those needs, but Havenplace at 174 1st St. N.E. is different, according to Barbara Gilbert, who recently joined the board of directors.
“Not only is it totally staffed by volunteers, it is totally funded by private donations and the collection plates of two congregations,” she said.
The two churches are Christ Community Church, which meets Sunday morning at Havenplace, and Living Word Church at 930 25th St. N.W.
“Now we find ourselves in the situation where we realize it is time to change because what we are trying to do with our kids, ages 13 through 29, is bring them into a setting that is theirs; but it’s not the same environment they are leaving outside on the street,” Gilbert said.
In order to meet that goal, the safe shelter has needed renovation and though they have seen generous responses from individuals and churches, more work needs finished.
“We have a population of kids in this community who do not have permanent homes,” Gilbert said. “They don’t have a family relationship to begin with. They are on their own more or less. They are coming in here and building trust with our volunteers.
“The job that Havenplace has is to transform that young person. When they are no longer eligible to come here for their safety, companionship or camaraderie, our job is to make sure they have learned enough to stand on their two feet outside Havenplace,” she said.
The saddest thing is to see a 30-year-old knocking on the door for safety and sanctuary.
“Most of these kids are coming here with experiences in drugs, alcohol, with sexual and domestic abuse, but there is also something else we’re fighting against and that is the terrible mentality of entitlement,” she said.
It is difficult to transform someone with no sense of worth, though Brian Tallent has seen the transformations take place in his 14 years at the safe harbor across the street from Cleveland Police Department.
Tallent has been a Havenplace volunteer since it opened. He has watched teens and young adults come and go, rise and fall. Through out those years, he has learned patience and how to grow trust with someone who is hurt and suspicious of others.
“A lot of it is waiting for them to come in,” Tallent said. “It’s letting them come in and feel comfortable around us and realizing we don’t look at them any differently. That’s the thing the want. They want people to see them as who they are.
“They’re just like everybody else. Everybody wants to be accepted for who they are. They want someone to know their names.”
But, all too often, because of life situations and circumstances, they may not have had a bath in a week and when they pass by someone, “they see that look, or they imagine that look,” Tallent said. “When they get to the point of feeling accepted, then they strive to become something better.”
That is the purpose of Havenplace: accept them for who they are, but show them there is something better. They see that by watching the volunteers and how they act.
“They’ve got a skewed opinion of the church based on the media and how the media portrays Christians. When they think ‘church people’ or ‘the church,’ they immediately go to that mindset of what social media has presented and that’s not who we are because that’s not who Jesus is,” Tallent said.
The biggest point of contact is the pool tables where they watch others play. A volunteer husband and wife recently refurbished one table, an act that did not go unnoticed by the patrons of Havenplace. The husband returned to work and talked about Havenplace and the work done there.
“The young girl he was talking to, who worked in his area said, ‘Oh, my name is on the wall,’” Gilbert said. “Her name is Harmony G. She is a mother. She is employed. She is a success story who says Havenplace helped her make good choices.”
Free snacks are available and the newcomer will soon ask someone where the snack came from. The newcomer eventually interacts with others and when that happens, a volunteer will start a small conversation.
“We don’t push anything. We wait for them,” Tallent said.