The Haven Shelter Provides New Business Course for the Homeless

    Courtesy: Ted Talks
    Courtesy: Ted Talks

    On Tuesday, October 18, members of the Charlottesville community turned out for the first class of a new business course that hopes to change how the homeless see themselves, and hopefully how others see the homeless.

    Called “From Suitcase to Briefcase,” this pilot program is designed to teach people who are homeless how to start a business, while also providing the emotional support needed to succeed as a new entrepreneur.

    The eight-week business course is held at The Haven, which operates as a multi-resources day shelter for the homeless. Clients and volunteers alike have found The Haven, which opened in 2010, to be an important part of the Charlottesville community.

    David Birkenthal, a Program Director for The Haven through Madison House at UVa, has found his time at The Haven to be meaningful, particularly in light of the addition of the Suitcase to Briefcase program.

    “As a college student, finding a way to make a substantive difference in the community can be rather difficult. I have been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to work with The Haven through Madison House. Getting to see the tireless effort that the staff at The Haven gives every single day has given me a better understand of the work that making a difference in the community really takes,” said Birkenthal.

    “From Suitcase to Briefcase” is taught by Becky Blanton, author of The Homeless Entrepreneur, and fellow entrepreneur David Durovy, President and Partner at The Post Institute.

    Blanton is a writer and former journalist who spent 18 months living out of van after the death of her father.

    Since then, Blanton has been a speaker at TEDGlobal 2009, where she gave a talk about her personal experience with homelessness. Today, Blanton describes herself as a professional, a business owner, a creator, and an entrepreneur who sees potential where others see a false stereotype.

    “I’m not just another person who wants to ‘work with the homeless,’” says Blanton. “I’ve actually done the start a business while homeless thing and now I’m teaching 11 homeless men and women how to start their own business.”

    Samantha Wood, who works as the Housing Stabilization Case Manager at The Haven, understands firsthand how beneficial a program like this can be for people experiencing homelessness.  The clients that she works with often find it difficult to gain income in a conventional manner when struggling with issues such as mental health, substance abuse, and domestic violence.

    “The entrepreneur program allows individuals who have experienced and/or are currently facing homelessness another opportunity, a way to think outside of the box when it comes to making money. It is definitely a new way of approaching the complexity of homelessness in our country.”

    After participating in the first session, Wood was impressed by the inspiration, energy, and enthusiasm that the class offers, as well as the atmosphere of hope within it.

    “Becky’s message is clear when she starts each class: a person is in control of his or her destiny no matter the circumstance,” said Wood.

    Diana Boeke, director of Community Engagement at The Haven, firmly believes that all those who participate in this course will be better positioned for success.

    “Our guests at The Haven come from all walks of life. Each one of them struggles with having stable housing for a different reason,” she said.  “Some are highly motivated and have what it takes to become a successful entrepreneur with just a little bit of encouragement, knowledge, and support.”

    Resources from the class and information about participants’ personal stories will be made available on in the coming weeks.

    Anyone interested in learning more about The Haven’s mission should visit their website at


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