Homeless shelter has mission
Education needed to end poverty
By John Faucher
Heather Du Vall, executive director of Mission of Hope House in New London, is not afraid to have those difficult conversations with people about poverty and homelessness.
“There is such a stereotype and stigma to poverty and homelessness, which is unfortunate,” said Du Vall.
Mission of Hope House is a 21-bed facility with a two-pronged approach to helping those who are homeless.
The organization offers immediate assistance to those who need shelter and food.
They also provide clothing and other goods like hygiene products through its thrift store called “The Bridge.”
Profits from the Bridge also go directly to fund and help the shelter.
The shelter is open 24-hours a day and is a first-come first-serve facility for all ages, families and single adults.
As part of the rule, residents must engage in at least 20 hours a week in meaningful and productive activity. Courses and enrichment activities are offered as well as life skills, job skills training, work and rental search programs.
Mission of Hope House helps its residents find confidence and assists them with self-care and even mental health care when needed.
“I think people really need to remember that our residents here aren’t these lazy people in their minds. They are the invisible neighbor who happens to be at shelter,” says Du Vall.
“It’s so important to give people grace and compassion and we need to remember everyone comes from a story. They may be down on their luck. That is what we are here for. To help them get to that next point in their life,” Du Vall explains.
“People aren’t homeless just because they want to be homeless.
You hear all the time, inflation is just so hard and transportation is such a big issue. A lot of people don’t have transportation and how can you get a job if you don’t have that?”
“When people maybe have a stereotype of what we do here, I try to get them to remember compassion,” said Du Vall.
Others often question her if she worries about her safety, or if she sees a lot of drugs and other problems at the shelter.
“I keep my door open and never once felt unsafe here,” said Du Vall. “Again I think it’s just those stereotypes of what people have in their minds of what this looks like.”
Du Vall tries to break down those stereotypes.
“That is why I encourage them to come take a tour. Come talk to me,” said Du Vall. “We can have coffee. I don’t shy away from those big discussions.”
According to Du Vall, education is key.
“The one thing I want to work on with the community is education of what poverty looks like. Because it is our mission, what we really do here is we work towards ending poverty and find the root cause of the housing situation that people are in,” says Du Vall.
She noted that most people do not think about many things through the lens of homelessness.
“You can’t get a job if you don’t have an address. You can’t get an ID if you don’t have an address. You can’t even do banking. It’s a cycle,” said Du Vall.
“Cash jobs are few and far between and that’s not going to get you good credit history. I think there is so much education that needs to happen. We are trying to break down barriers for people and help them create a better future for themselves,” Du Vall said.
“I don’t fault people for thinking a certain way. Sometimes the media can portray homelessness in a negative light. And you only know what you know, right?” said Du Vall.
“When people learn the truth and learn the facts, and still choose to believe what they do, then that’s a separate issue,” she said.
Tasks of running shelter
The first priority for running a shelter is finding resources and compassion for the residents there.
“The other task is engaging the community and educating them about what we do here,” Du Vail added. “It is humbling to find those support networks within shelter and outside shelter,” she said.
“It almost brings me to tears because it is such a humbling place to be, watching sometimes people going through the hardest times in their life,” said Du Vall.
Being able to be part of their stories in a positive way is what motivates Du Vall.
“Not every story turns out perfect, but I still feel like what we are able to offer here is compassion and comfort,” she said.
“That’s what gets me up every day in the morning to come to work.”
Last year the Mission of Hope House served 380 individuals through its Meet the Needs program and provided nearly 4,000 nights of rest at the shelter.
To learn more, or to donate to Mission of Hope House or the Bridge Thrift store, visit missionofhopehouse.org.