Haven of Hope


Article featuring the Haven Project from The Daily Item

Trisha Cole, left, a student, and Amy Velardi, her tutor, work on lessons at the Haven Project on Munroe Street in Lynn.

Located at the top of a steep set of stairs on Munroe Street, the Haven Project is a tough place to find unless you’re a homeless kid who needs to get out of the cold or talk to someone who has answers.

Haven Project has been around since 2011 and Director Gini Mazman said the organization helps 150 kids a year. These teenagers and young adults look like most people between the age of 17 and 24, but their stories are laced with pain and a legacy of few, if any, opportunities.

Mazman said some of the young people assisted by Haven endured abusive situations in their family homes until they escaped or were kicked out. Others are victims of a condition described by state youth workers as “aging out.” These teens are too old to remain in foster care but too ill-equipped for life to live on their own.

Lack of life skills and stability are the common denominators in the lives of youth assisted by the Haven Project. These are people, said Mazman and Haven drop-in center director Emily Urbina, who did not simply fail to learn common sense life lessons — they never were taught basic skills by someone who exercised a strong and loving presence in their lives.

Urbina said skills even their peers take for granted — knowing how to call in sick to a job, showing up on time for school, making an appointment — are absent from the lives of many homeless teens. Because their life-skill tool box is empty, homeless teenagers can’t stay in school and they can’t hold a job for any length of time. Because they can’t get an education or develop a career, they can’t find and maintain a stable living situation, and so the cycle repeats itself.

Haven Project tries to break the cycle, first and foremost, by showing homeless teens that someone cares about their predicament and understands what they are going through. The converted warehouse space Haven Project uses is a carpeted, comfortable place where teens can spend some time talking to people like Mazman and Urbina.

There is one rule in force at Haven — teens can always return to 57 Munroe St. and ask for help, even if they turn their backs on the employment and education opportunities Haven gives them a chance to try out. Urbina said this accepting and tolerant policy teaches homeless teens an important life lesson — they ultimately must be accountable to themselves if they want to break the cycle of homelessness.

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