From Divinity School to Director: Meet Stephen Hitchcock, Executive Director at The Haven

By Anna Grace Chang, Tuyet-Minh Tran, Mahima Reddy & Kristin Adams.

  1. What brought you to Charlottesville?: I went to divinity school in Vancouver, British

Columbia. There's a consortium of theological schools connected to the University of British Columbia. I got what is called a Masters of Divinity, which is a ridiculous title, but there it is. From there I was in the ordination process within the Chrisitian tradition (the Presbyterian denomination) and so had begun that process after school and moving here to Charlottesville. Between my mom and dad, the kind of socially-minded way of being that they cultivated in me, and then also working in the Skid Row area of Vancouver, I knew that I wanted to be working with people in underserved communities and I had worked within the homeless system of care in Vancouver. So I was in the ordination process but ultimately was ordained as a chaplain here at the Haven. I was here in Charlottesville in 2006, then in 2007-2008 the Haven (which was formerly a church) was put for sale, decommissioned, then purchased and renovated to become a day shelter and provide basic services. So I got connected in 2007-2008 and that was through a fellow named Dave Norris. He was the mayor at the time and he was the co-founder of PACEM, which is the thermal emergency shelter in our community. (It's no longer thermal; they’re running the emergency shelter year-round currently.) Dave Norris put me in contact with these subcommittees that had formed to imagine the operation, and what the philosophical approach of the Haven might be — so that's how I got connected with them. In 2009, the original executive director Kaki Dimock was hired, and then she hired me. We opened in 2010.”


When you were ordained as a chaplain at The Haven, was it still a church?: “No, I should have explained — chaplains work in contexts that are non-ecclesial, or non-church-based, or non-formally-religious based. You can have chaplains in hospitals, you have them in hospices; increasingly you find them in lots of different areas… Chaplaincy itself is an inter-faith approach to accompanying people through crisis. When someone is in a crisis, questions that are existential and sometimes theological end up emerging. Chaplains are people to recognize those questions and accompany you through them. It’s commonly done in dialogue now with what is recognized as the “best practice approach” to health, which considers the whole person. Some chaplains are atheists — you have buddhists, every type. So the idea is that a Jewish chaplain could minister to a Sikh family because chaplaincy at its core involves recognizing this component of healing and well-being.”


2. Why did you get involved with The Haven?: “Well the answer I usually give is that I blame my parents. So, this is their fault. All jokes aside, my parents are really wonderful and have worked with underserved communities, specifically within Augusta, Georgia, where I grew up. So just being in that household kept me on a course and then I continued to have experiences like the one in Vancouver.”


3. What is your role at The Haven?: I'm the director.”


Do you mind describing your day-to-day duties with that?: “Much of my time involves supervision and support meetings with staff, and meetings across our continuum of care. I attend the board meeting for TJACH, which is our lead agency. It's the Thomas Jefferson Area Coalition for the Homeless. Homeless systems of care are quite formalized, actually, because mandates have required as much. HUD (the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) requires that homeless systems of care have a lead agency. This is a non-direct service agency that monitors the continuums of care. Our continuum of care would be the city of Charlottesville and then the five surrounding counties, so Albemarle, Nelson, Greene, Fluvanna, and Louisa. That's our catchment area and when I say continuum of care or COC, that's what I mean. So a non-direct service agency that monitors that catchment area is mandated by HUD, and ours is called TJACH. I attend meetings with them, write grants, and work on other forms of preparation. I do engage with guests of the Haven as well but that's more in a piecemeal fashion. The majority of my time goes to the staff.”


4. How have you been spending your time in quarantine?: Well, I haven't been. I mean there have been moments when I've been quarantined completely, but we shifted back to work at The Haven pretty quickly. Of course when someone is experiencing homelessness they can't shelter in place. They can't stay at home because they don't have one. So our system of care was very much still in operation. We shifted to be able to, for one, limit the amount of people accessing the building. So we asked all of the people who are housed, who are still regular guests just coming in for food, or maybe to do laundry, or even just to connect with friends — we asked those folks to stay at home. Right now we are doing walk-up and to-go food service, so people can come to the front of the sanctuary of the Haven and then walk away with food, and we deliver to the hotels. So the congregate emergency shelter, which is run by PACEM (PACEM is usually open for five months a year but with COVID, their season has been extended indefinitely) — in our continuum of care we moved folks out of that congregate setting into hotels. Those are specifically people who are at-risk for COVID at this point. And we provide meals to that group as well. I would say the food service for us has been the biggest shift. And then, so many of our staff are at home because they are either at-risk or they have family members at-risk, so there's been a big shift in terms of just the number of people on site.”


5. What is a good habit you've developed and that you hope to maintain post-quarantine?: “That is a good question. Well I think it's mostly just kind of amplified my habits — it hasn't changed them. I walk a lot and I walk even more now. It continues to be a very helpful practice for me. It really keeps me grounded.” 


6. What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned at The Haven?: “There’s nothing I can’t learn while working at The Haven. Everything under the sun happens here, from birth, to death, to everything in between. We see the human condition in every state here, and that’s something that has surprised and grounded me. Working here has also shown me that there’s no excuse for not showing common regard for others. Respecting others is one of the most powerful things you can do.”

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