Conway Daily Sun Coverage of Way Station: Original articles and tele-talk/social media coverage
• Read Rev Nathan Hall's Letter to Editor: "Try to see complexity and extend dignity" Link to his letter in Conway Daily Sun.
• Read Rev Gail Doktor's Letter to Editor "Way Station cares for neighbors, guests and volunteers" Link to her letter in Conway Daily Sun.
• Article: Way Station provides resources to homeless
To the editor:
Both as the pastor of Lutheran Church of the Nativity on Grove Street in North Conway and as an organizing member of the Way Station (a community-wide effort to create a day resource center operating in Nativity’s ministry center), I have been following with great personal interest the story that The Conway Daily Sun wrote regarding some friction between the Way Station and our neighbors. I have likewise been interested in the Tele-Talk question that followed quickly on that story’s heels.
One thing that struck me regarding both, is that The Conway Daily Sun chose to repeat the phrase “unsavory elements” as a euphemism to refer to the homeless people who visit the center. Because words matter, I think it should be pointed out that to refer to people as “elements” is dehumanizing. It changes the person from a being with inherit worth and dignity to a thing, an object to be used, ignored or mistreated. More shame upon us if we act as though people are elements.
But through this whole brouhaha, homeless people are not the only ones who have become objectified. Checking the Tele-Talk Facebook comments, I noticed that our neighbors have also been maligned and dehumanized. It is not fair to assume that they are bad people. It is not fair to say they are heartless, and so dismiss their worth. They are not villains. They are acting out of concern for safety, and they too have full human dignity.
The righteous indignation at our society’s failing to find a solution to homelessness is too much for any one person to own. The burden of judgment is for us collectively; it may not be heaped on one neighbor.
It is easy to cast those with whom we struggle as “unsavory elements.” But it is harder and much nearer to the truth to recognize human complexity while still extending the dignity to which all are entitled.
To the editor:
The Way Station board of directors wants to clarify what the Way Station is, and is not. We also affirm that we appreciate input, including recent conversations with our neighbors.
The Way Station serves as a day resource center for three populations: teens, families with children and adults. We’re the first facility in Carroll County to directly address the gap in services for residents of the Mount Washington Valley who are experiencing homelessness, housing-insecurity, as well as those who have stable housing but are one paycheck away from losing their homes. Often this means our guests live in campgrounds, cars, hotels or they double up in apartments or couch-surf. We aren’t a shelter and don’t offer overnight accommodations or serve meals.
The Way Station offers showers, laundry, toiletries, camping supplies, internet access, emergency non-perishable food supplies, post office box to receive mail, and referrals to other care-providing agencies, plus socio-emotional support for our guests. Since transportation can be a barrier, we can cover rides to the Way Station via taxi vouchers.
At this time, we are usually open 12-15 hours per week, with two volunteers on-site. The Vaughan Center serves as our fiscal agent and provides the 501(c)(3) under which we function, although we operate autonomously with our own board of directors.
The Way Station is hosted on Nativity Lutheran’s campus; it is supported by several non-profit organizations and faith communities. Everyone involved with the Way Station is a volunteer, and we depend solely on donations.
Since we opened a few weeks ago, we have served over a dozen people, including families with minor children and individual adults. Our guests came through referrals from other agencies. None were walk-ins, though this may change. Our navigators (volunteers with training and professional expertise in support for vulnerable or at-risk populations) help guests connect with a network of agencies and non-profits.
Rural homelessness and housing-insecurity is not well-documented or easily defined. Local, state and federal agencies don’t have accurate statistics to measure or describe our guests’ needs in this region; we are helping Tri-County Cap gather basic information and statistics.
Since this is a new facility, supporting a population whose needs haven’t previously been profiled, the Way Station operates with an adaptive, open-ended approach. We are learning — from our guests — about their needs as they ask for support. We can adjust resources and strategies to best serve people’s needs as we get to know them.
Our goal is to provide a safe and welcoming place for our guests, as well as to care for the well-being of volunteers and our neighbors. As a work-in-progress, the Way Station’s board of directors realizes that ongoing check-ins with local stakeholders — neighbors, volunteers, donors, referring agencies, local authorities and guests — helps us to improve our presence in the valley.
Rev. Gail Doktor, Way Station board member, Glen
Including Jeanette Heidmann, board member of Way Station: Yes, I agree with town officials that running a homeless program is a normal function of a church. As a member of the board for the Way Station, we visited several N.H. and Mass. organizations providing similar services as the Way Station. Several of those were church-sponsored and housed. As you look around the valley, there is no one providing the services the Way Station does. We have coordinated with multiple local organizations and services, all of which are excited to see the Way Station succeed. We have carefully tailored the services to what we have been counseled the valley needs and we are working with a team of excited volunteers to slowly implement a solution to what has been determined as a true void in the area. Jeanette Heidmann, Center Conway.