Hope Haven’s on a mission to keep people warm this winter

The DeKalb-based emergency shelter needs blankets, pillows, towels and fitted sheets for twin mattresses

Angie Shoulis, Hope Haven's emergency shelter coordinator, and Gary Chapman, Hope Haven's Associate Director talk, in the men's common room, with an individual staying at the shelter on Jan. 6, 2023.

DeKALB – The winter can be a rough time for many, especially those without a home to call their own. Hope Haven’s shelter in DeKalb knows that, and staff said they’ve made sure to turn none away who are in need.

Hope Haven, a year-round shelter in DeKalb that offers supportive services for individuals and families without homes.

Lesly Wicks, who’s been the shelter’s executive director for the past 28 years, said Hope Haven normally houses almost 100 individuals a night. Inclement weather can often change that, however, even if beds are full.

“It’s always difficult when it’s cold because we’re generally always full, but when the weather gets to a point where it’s dangerous for people who may be staying in cars or have a tent in a park, or other places not meant for human habitation – we have a no turn away policy,” Wicks said. “Which means even if we have to put up extra cots we won’t turn anyone away because ... it could be deadly to even be living out in those kind of conditions.”

Wicks, 63, said the cold snap that saw temperatures in DeKalb County drop to about 10 below zero – with windchills close to 40 below zero – caused Hope Haven to be “really busy” days before Christmas.

Hope Haven's emergency shelter, located at 1145 Rushmoore Dr. in DeKalb, has a no turn away policy when extreme weather makes outdoor conditions dangerous to live in. Picture taken Jan. 6, 2023.

Wicks said inclement weather – hot or cold – always brings more people to the shelter because homeless people who normally don’t use the shelter have to seek refuge when temperatures outside become unlivable.

“There are a lot of people who choose to stay out of the shelter, and the homeless people that stay out of the shelter, they don’t want to live in a shelter but cold weather or excessive hot weather will bring that population in,” Wicks said. “And it’s not a large population. We know one or two people that prefer to stay out in their cars and parks but with extreme weather they will come in.”

Hope Haven doesn’t have any special programs for winter, Wicks said, but the shelter does employ a registered nurse as a part of its clinical staff. The shelter also provides information about how to prevent frostbite in freezing weather.

Asked what the community could do to aid Hope Haven’s mission, Wicks said the shelter needs blankets, pillows towels, and fitted sheets that will fit twin mattresses.

“Because we do serve a lot of people, almost a hundred a night – if you include all of our programs – so that’s a lot of stuff we need on an ongoing basis,” Wicks said. “A part of that is the shelter will stay full because of the weather and it will also bring in extra people which requires extra bedding.”

The bunkbeds in Hope Haven's mens bedroom on Jan. 6, 2023.

Angie Shaulis, Hope Haven’s emergency shelter coordinator, said the men’s side of the shelter has stayed the busiest this winter. As of Jan. 6, at least a couple of people staying at the shelter are sleeping on makeshift beds out of cots.

Wicks, who develops programs, supervises the staff and conducts public relations for the shelter, said the positive remarks she most often hears from those staying at the Hope Haven heralds the shelter’s culture.

“It’s a very supportive and empowering and almost homelike feeling in the shelter,” Wicks said. “I know it’s only a temporary house for people that’s there. We definitely want them to be treated with respect and dignity. And so I think they really like the culture and how they’re treated at Hope Haven.”

One of the shelter’s residents, James, said he likes how the staff keeps him honest about financial goals he’s set for himself. James said his most recent paycheck was smaller than normal because of reduced holiday hours at his work, so he ended up using the money he earned to support his family. He said a staff member encouraged him to save some of his income, saying every little bit counts.

Angie Shoulis, Hope Haven's emergency shelter coordinator, and Gary Chapman, Hope Haven's Associate Director talk in the emergency shelter's women's common room on Jan. 6, 2023.

Wicks currently is working from home so she can focus on writing a grant proposal for the shelter to go toward needed renovations.

Women and men have separate sleeping and commons areas inside the emergency shelter. Each common room has couches, tables and a TV. Bunk beds are lined in rows in the men’s sleeping area, along with a couple of cots.

On Jan. 6 plumbers were at the facility, repairing an issue near the shelter’s kitchen. Repairs like those are something Wicks is focusing on while working from home to write a grant proposal.

“The shelter was built 22 years ago so it’s had some wear and tear, so really we’d like to replace some flooring and upgrade one of the bathrooms in the family dorm. So that’s what I’m writing the grant for,” Wicks said.

Hope Haven's emergency shelter coordinator, Angie Shoulis gives a tour of the shelter's small kitchen on Jan. 6, 2023.
Camden Lazenby

Camden Lazenby

Camden Lazenby covers DeKalb County news for the Daily Chronicle.