Libertyville, Illinois conjures up images of big houses, wide lawns, and a quiet, idyllic, suburban life. But nestled in the center of Libertyville, in the center of Lake County, is a most unexpected sight: the Lake County Haven's shelter and housing program for homeless women and children.
The Haven has been in operation for over 20 years, and has, in that time, assisted over 800 women and families in their quest for independence. Over 90% of those people were from Lake County, and that can be no surprise given the far-reaching effects of the recession and the slow pace of the recovery.
Unlike most shelters, the Haven does not exclude people due to the cause of their homelessness. The Haven's residents become homeless due to a variety of reasons including job loss, eviction, foreclosure, illness, and domestic violence. Executive Director Laura Sabino says that the Haven has seen a sharp increase in the number of people homeless due to purely economic reasons. "People lose their job, they survive for a while on unemployment benefits, and then they start selling off their possessions and live on that money. Eventually they turn to family and friends. But ultimately all of those sources run dry and they are literally out on the streets." Sabino said.
That's when women and children end up on the doorstep of the Lake County Haven. They have few possessions, no money, no income, enormous debt, and no hope for themselves or their children. The Lake County Haven is the final safety net for these desperate families. The Haven provides shelter, a warm bed, nutritious meals, and all the necessities of daily life such as clothing, toiletries, transportation, etc. The Haven also provides professional services to help people get a job, manage their debt, tend to their illnesses, and once again become self-sufficient. "The transformation from how someone is when they first show up at our door, and how they are when they leave, is quite remarkable. We see people 'come back to life' here." Sabino explained.
No More Room at the Inn
"What would happen if a shelter, the last hope for desperate families, has no more money to stay open?" asks Board of Directors Vice-President Donna Barnett. It's something that nobody likes to think about, but it is a reality these days when many small nonprofits are closing due to lack of funds. The Haven was hit hard by the recession and was forced to temporarily reduce expenses, but did so without sacrificing a single bed for homeless women or children. The Haven re-structured, worked hard to strengthen its financial foundation, and has held steady. Part of the reason that the Haven has survived is the success of its annual gala, A Havenly Night, each spring. But other sources of income have decreased dramatically, and it comes as no surprise that government funding is sporadic and undependable.
So the Haven is reaching out to individuals, clubs, churches, and businesses in the community, and asking them to do just one thing: to adopt just one night at the shelter. "If we can get just 365 people or clubs or businesses to step up and adopt a night for $239.00, we can ensure the operation of our shelter for the entire year. We believe and hope that the good people of Lake County will rise to this challenge," said Barnett.
What does that one night mean to the residents of the Haven? It means life itself. Often, Haven residents explain that if they had not gotten into the Haven's shelter, they would be sleeping on park benches, in a car, on the steps of their church, or in the forest preserves. Women and children in those situations are frequently victims of rape, not to mention the dangers of freezing or starving. Instead, women and children of the Haven are in a safe, warm home, surrounded by people who are kind to them and who are also teaching them how to climb out of homelessness. Any community member, who adopts just one night, is providing that experience for 10 women and children. "The Haven gave me and my son a warm bed, food on our plates, and a future." Haven residents explain.
The Haven is offering a number of thank-you incentives for donors who Adopt-A-Night. More information is available on their website: www.lakecountyhaven.org. There are also opportunities to adopt nights as birthday or anniversary gifts, or to adopt in memory of a loved one.
The Haven also operates a transitional housing program. All in all, the Haven provides housing and services for 26 women and children each night. The agency is always full, and has to turn away many people due to reaching its capacity. But for the 26 people each day who do make it into the program, the Haven has saved them from certain violence, hardship, and despair of living on the streets. A Haven resident adds, "Quite simply, the Haven saved my life."
To Adopt-A-Night, visit www.lakecountyhaven.org. For more information, please call the general office number: 847.680.1703.