CONWAY — The Way Station, a day resource center for the area’s homeless population, plans to use a $10,000 grant from the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation to study emergency housing options, say board members Jeannette Heidmann and the Revs. Nathan Hall and Gail Doktor.
Doktor, pastor of the Jackson Community Church, said she and Hall, pastor of the Lutheran Church of the Nativity in North Conway, along with treasurer Heidmann and other volunteers, founded The Way Station two years ago as a way to address the needs of the homeless in the Mount Washington Valley.
According to Heidmann, who wrote the grant application along with fellow board member Julie Bosak, the recently received grant “will enable the development and refinement of a long-range strategic plan with particular emphasis toward examining and developing housing options for those experiencing homelessness or housing insecurities.”
They plan to work with strategic planning consultant Janet Wilkinson of Madison, she said.
Focusing on emergency housing was a suggestion made by the board’s Housing Task Force, she said. And it was Chuck Henderson who recommended they go for the grant.
The Way Station is located at 15 Grove St. in the Church of the Nativity’s administrative building, which once served as the rectory for the Lutheran Church of the Nativity. It features has a kitchen, showers, bathrooms, internet access and other amenities useful to people who live without shelter.
Its weekly clientele currently numbers about 30 individuals or households, supporting them with food and a variety of services.
“There are four pillars that we are working on,” said Doktor. “The first step has been meeting essential needs. The next step is transitional forms of shelter or housing; the third is supporting a path out of poverty; and the fourth is stabilization of vulnerable households at risk for losing their current residence.”
“The Way Station meets an unmet need. Homelessness was not being directly addressed; no local non-profit solely focused on that issue,” said Doktor.
Dan Lavigne, client care coordinator, noted, “Like other communities, the Mount Washington Valley area has those who are struggling with housing and food insecurity. Without adequate housing, people are unable to care for their basic daily needs such as meals, hygiene, sleep and security.”
And if someone does have a place to live, The Way Station tries to help ease their financial burden by providing food, clothing and other supplies.
If someone is living in a hotel, the center tries to connect them to services that can help them move into a more stable situation.
“If they live in cars or outside, we provide tents and sleeping bags, trying to bring just a little more comfort,” Lavigne said. “We also provide a postal address. But most importantly, Way Station provides humanity, dignity and connection.”
Doktor said last year due to COVID-19, “we could not offer showers. And we dropped from more than 30 volunteers down to a core team of four or five people, as many of our volunteers were older people or at risk due to underlying health issues.
“Now many volunteers have returned, and we have been able to open up over the last several months,” Doktor said. “We have adapted by putting people’s go-bags (kits with toiletries, groceries, mail and other necessities) out on the porch,” said Doktor.
She added that the number of people served has increased during COVID.
“The number of people increased by about three times during COVID. The great thing is we have made stronger, more consistent relationships with everybody,” said Doktor. “We continue connecting to our clients weekly by phone and in-person, conducting wellness checks.”
Another service area that the Way Station has been able to make stronger is the delivery of food and essentials to those who lack reliable transportation.
Some people with no means of transportation arrive at The Way Station equipped with a backpack. Those people on foot get four or five cans of canned food items to help them until their next visit. They can also receive toiletries, emergency clothing, and/or camping gear.
The Way Station gives out some out laundry cards to be used at local laundromats, and is again making appointments for people to do their laundry on-site at the Grove Street facility.
Doktor said that in addition to Lavigne’s work, a White Mountains Community College intern, Skyler Collins, is assisting at the center this summer, along with other volunteers. Recent 2021 Kennett High School graduate Anthony Papetti also volunteered his time this past year, designing a database for use by The Way Station’s volunteers.
“Each week, we call clients to check on them. Dan has about 50 people on his call list,” said Doktor.
Asked how many homeless people there are in the region, Doktor estimated that “on any given day about 100 people.”
Anecdotally, The Way Station estimates that one quarter of the homeless have no shelter and are camping or living outside, one quarter are living in cars, one quarter are “couch surfing” at friends’ places and one quarter are living in motel rooms.
“Our biggest service is still our phone number: we problem solve with people, as Dan (Lavigne) answers people’s questions and makes referrals and helps them to make a plan,” said Doktor.
Heidmann said when it began, The Way Station operated under the Vaughan Community Services’ non-profit umbrella. Way Station received its own 501(c)(3) status in December of 2020.
Doktor says it also collaborates with BJ Parker of the town of Conway Welfare (General Assistance) Office and such organizations as Vaughan Community Services, Tri-CAP, White Horse, MWV Supports Recovery, White Mountain Community Health Center, Northern Human Services, Children Unlimited and Starting Point.
“We are working toward having other teams on-site during shifts, such as representatives from places like Starting Point, White Horse, Tri-CAP and possibly medical providers,” she said.
Doktor said The Way Station is open by appointment on Mondays from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. and open to walk-ins Thursdays 5-6 p.m.
For more information or to receive support, call (603) 452-7113. To learn more about the Way Station, go to waystationnh.org.
The New Hampshire Charitable Foundation was founded in 1962 by and for the people of New Hampshire.
Managing Editor Margaret McKenzie contributed to this article.