Haywood Street Respite: Different and the Same

by Executive Director, Laura K.

With this month marking the ten year anniversary of Haywood Street Respite, many of us have spent time reflecting on this remarkable ministry. My own involvement began in 2012 when Brooks Ann McKinney, a tireless health care for the homeless advocate, introduced the idea. 

Brooks Ann observed the thriving ministry developing on our campus. She saw the empty space in the former Sunday School wing of our building and noticed that Asheville did not have a medical respite program despite the city’s high per capita homeless population. She challenged us to adopt this relatively new model of care that could interrupt the downward spiral that often begins when homelessness and poor health collide. 

We spent a year meeting with potential partners including Mission Hospital, Western NC Community Health Services (Minnie Jones), Pisgah Legal Services and a few others. We visited The Samaritan House in Charlotte, NC for inspiration and advice. Ultimately we saw this as an opportunity for even deeper connection with our community through living together, and we pledged to move forward. We painted all the rooms, purchased bedroom furniture and more, and developed a full set of policies and procedures. 

On January 6th, 2014 we welcomed our first Friend into Respite. He had been hospitalized due to a stroke and was referred to us for recuperative care. We were so excited when he arrived. That first year we had 95 Friends stay with us, including Larry, the first person to celebrate a birthday in Respite. 

Haywood Street Respite Admission

Last week Nicole reflected on some of the ways the program has evolved in recent years to support folks struggling with mental health and substance use challenges. Some things have changed and yet so much is the same. Folks share their fears and hopes with one another during late night conversations in the kitchen. Movie nights bring back memories of happy times with family. Birthdays are still a big deal in Respite as many of our Friends have not had a proper birthday celebration in a long time. 

Over the past decade I’ve been asked many times what I think about Haywood Street Respite and what goes on there. I often describe this cycle that plays out over and over again. A person arrives to Respite a little skeptical, sometimes downright scared. Unsure about moving in to a church and why everyone is so glad to see them. The folks who have been there for a little while encourage them that it’s OK, that this is a safe and welcoming place, that they are now part of the Respite family. They show the new person what community looks like. 

And then, a few days later, when another new person arrives, the formerly skeptical friend offers community to the new person. And the cycle continues. I was reminded of this cycle earlier this week when Kim shared a story about a Friend who started her time at Respite “scared to death” and afraid to leave her room, but days later while helping to make dinner in the Respite kitchen spontaneously shared, “I’ve never felt so at home anywhere.” This is the best I have to sum up Haywood Street Respite on its ten-year anniversary. Thanks be to God and thanks to all who have helped make this ministry possible. 


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