Asheville – “Holy chaos”: the phrase that represents The Haywood Street Congregation. It encapsulates the beautiful frenzy that is Haywood. This ministry, located on the outskirts of downtown Asheville, opens its arms to everyone in the community, primarily serving unhoused and marginalized people through the Downtown Welcome Table, preparing food in the kitchen, and building relationships with those staying in the Haywood Street Respite.
“Relationship above all else,” said Jinnia Siironen, the banquet steward who runs the kitchen. She works alongside Dave Holland, a co-banquet steward, in preparing and sharing all of the meals. Building connections is a core value at Haywood, but that’s just one aspect that sets Haywood apart from other service providers and churches interacting with the community.
The Downtown Welcome Table is a place where members of the community gather and share a meal with one another. It allows for the building and strengthening of relationships.
“It just makes a huge difference for folks to hear their name called, especially in a world that so many of our friends are often overlooked,” Siironen said.
Haywood Street puts an emphasis on all people being worthy and loved by offering unconditional support and mutual respect.
“We don’t measure peoples progress as if they’re successes and failures, instead we’re here to meet people where they are and be community, and begin with the assumption that maybe someone that is considered without material actually has something to offer,” Rev. Brian Combs said.
One way the community has given back is through restaurants partnering with the Downtown Welcome Table to prepare full meals. Over forty local restaurants participate in this program where they come into the kitchen and work alongside companions. What’s beautiful about this experience is that so many different parts of the community get the opportunity to interact with one another.
Throughout Covid-19, this program has shifted to meals being prepared specifically for friends staying in Respite. It is the hope that the future will allow this program to take place again in the kitchen.
Respite is a program that offers short term care for members of the community that are unable to recuperate on the streets. It provides a home-like setting with friendly staff and companions. Respite also gives those who stay an opportunity to search for housing following their stay. 7 out of 10 people who stay end up moving off the streets. Respite is unique in that it fosters more one on one relationships which is incredibly beautiful in and of itself.
Haywood Street strives to be different in that they avoid the typical “service” ideology. At Haywood, everyone is seen and the relationships developed benefit everyone, not just those receiving. At Haywood, connection is valued far more than just providing.
If you are interested in getting involved or want to learn more, go to www.haywoodstreet.org