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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, October 22, 2009

New offices at Beacon of Hope
Safe Haven lets those who are struggling “create their own destiny”

By Philippa Stasiuk

ALTAMONT “It’s so simple, it’s ridiculous.” That’s how board president George Pratt describes the Helderberg Interfaith Community Safe Haven’s mission of offering temporary housing to Hilltown area residents in crisis.

The local not-for-profit is celebrating its 10-year anniversary with a new office in Ed Frank’s Beacon of Hope Care Center on Gun Club Road in Altamont. Elaine Clark, co-director, explained that she hopes the new office will make Safe Haven more accessible to the public, even though the services provided are so discreet.

“We want to set up a communication network there; an informal community resource where people can come, even if they don’t need shelter but if they have other needs, like where there are counseling facilities, other shelters in other areas, or what laws are for children who become homeless,” said Clark.

Board members also say that raising awareness for the shelter and fund-raising are goals for which the new office is destined. With part-time staff and a volunteer board, the organization gets by on what Clark describes as a “shoestring budget” of $24,000 a year.

In 1999, various members of the Hilltown community came together and founded Safe Haven after realizing there was nothing like it available in rural Albany County. Margery Smith, a Hilltown doctor who has since retired, saw the need through her patients. Linda Berquist, who worked in the school system, could see problems through the children. And Reverend Don Lyon of the First Baptist Church in Westerlo, also now retired, saw the need for a shelter through his work with the church.

“When a couple can’t communicate or talk,” said Lyon, “things become desperate and, if left alone, dangerous and violent. If it gets violent, then it’s out of the hands of the community and judges and lawyers take over. Then it’s hard to reconcile couples.”

In the last 10 years, over 200 people have been placed in Safe Haven’s temporary shelter, whether their need is because of spousal abuse, fire, foreclosure, or eviction — to name a few. But board members say they are aware that a person needing temporary housing is often linked with much more serious problems.

“We’re playing a good role in providing shelter and getting them started,” said Berquist. “Then the community has a responsibility to address other needs. Albany County is rich in resources and those resources need to reach the Hilltowns.”

Clark said that, through connections with local agencies and churches, Safe Haven is able to point people towards some of the resources to which Berquist alluded, whether for counseling, food stamps, or drug and alcohol treatment.

While the board does not always agree on who qualifies for temporary housing, all believe that, when there are children involved, keeping them in the same school district is vital. As long as that is taken care of, it is then up to the individual to be able to use the shelter as a leg up to improving his or her life.

Hence, Pratt’s idea that it is so simple, it’s ridiculous. By giving someone shelter, “They’ll have a frame of time with enough advice from everybody to take a chance and step forward. It’s up to them to choose to get out of the mud hole they’re in,” said Pratt, Altamont’s former police chief.

Or as Lisa McCann, board member and practice manager of the Peter Young Community Center said, “The best ray of hope to offer to someone is they are the creators of their own destiny.”

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