By Todd Cohen
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Trained and supervised by the former banquet chef at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, they cater business meetings, wedding receptions and family reunions.
They operate a commercial laundry that counts as its customers the Uptown Men’s Shelter, Ronald McDonald House, Rooms in the Inn, and caterers at Bank of America Stadium.
And they provide grounds and building maintenance, including work on electrical and heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems, that saves tens of thousands of dollars a year for their employer.
They are the residents of Hope Haven, a nonprofit that provides services and transitional housing for homeless people after they have completed a primary drug or alcoholic treatment program within the previous year.
Founded in 1976 by two women who were recovering alcoholics and wanted to fill a local gap in programs for women in recovery, Hope Haven opened the following year after receiving a $5,000 grant from Lance Inc. that allowed it to rent a house that initially provided transitional housing for five women.
Today, operating with an annual budget of $3.7 million and a staff of 48 full-time, part-time and contract employees, Hope Haven serves about 330 men, women and children a year, providing counseling, life-skills training, vocational training, and job-readiness skills and support.
“Our mission is to help a person become a sober, independent, responsible, taxpaying citizen,” says Alice Harrison, president and CEO.
The agency is based in the Villages of Hope Haven, an 11.6-acre campus that is home to a 17,500-square-foot conference center that was built in 1959 as the Heart of Charlotte Hotel; transitional housing units for 170 individuals, single-parent families, intact families and couples; administrative space; chapel; commercial greenhouse; commercial laundry; commercial kitchen and dining area; meeting rooms; and a working garden.
Hope Haven also operates two permanent housing facilities, one with beds for 12 men on Charlotte Drive in the Dilworth neighborhood, the other with beds for 10 women off Mallard Creek Church Road in the University area.
And it expects soon to merge with Serenity House, a residential facility in Cabarrus County that operates two houses with a total of 10 beds for homeless people who have completed recovery programs.
Still, Hope Haven typically has a waiting list of 50 people wanting to enter its program.
Melissa Thompson, vice president of development and community engagement at Hope Haven, says the agency provides “second chances.”
Hope Haven has served roughly 4,000 people, and about 75 percent of them have gone on to find jobs, she says.
The remaining clients often enter the agency’s program on medication for dual diagnoses such as mental health problems and diabetes, and are not able to work, although Hope Haven requires that they go to school or volunteer in the community, she says.
Hope Haven receives federal funding to serve homeless people, as well as revenue from United Way, private contributions, and contracts with public health agencies to provide after-care services.
It also generates revenue from its vocational training programs, and receives a program fee from residents after they complete those programs, which focus on food service, laundry services, and grounds and building maintenance.
And it works with its residents to find and keep jobs.
Hope Haven will host its annual Dancing for Hope Gala on April 20 at UNCC Center City, and hopes to raise $100,000, up from $65,000 in 2012.
“When people goes through treatment and are homeless,” Harrison says, “they come here so they have the opportunity to live in a safe place, learn and use the tools of recovery.”