SAFE HAVEN Mary’s Haven, formerly known as Veronica’s Home of Mercy I and II, is a longterm shelter in San Bernardino that offers women who have children a safe alternative to domestic violence, substance abuse, homelessness or abortion. LEFT: Adaija, who left her home in Illinois because of domestic violence, is pictured with her two sons. BOTTOM RIGHT: Cynthia, who had been struggling with her mental health, substance abuse and an abusive living situation, holds her son. Both women say that Mary’s Haven has helped them to get back on their feet so that they and their children can thrive in a healthy environment. Also pictured are the shelter's exterior and chapel.
By Anneliese Esparza
The last names of the residents interviewed for this story have been withheld for their privacy and safety.
SAN BERNARDINO—Pregnant and fleeing an abusive living situation, Adaija left her home and drove nearly 2,000 miles from Illinois to California, where she has found a safe place to stay and raise her two children.
Adaija lives at Mary’s Haven in San Bernardino, a shelter for women and their children.
While the pregnancy of her second son, Noah, was planned, the domestic violence situation with his father escalated until Adaija knew she had to leave. She also knew that having a second child while also moving across the country with no certainty of what would happen next was not going to be easy, but she was determined to carry her son to term despite the difficulties.
“I didn’t want to take it out on my son for something that was going on with his dad. So I decided to keep him and just kind of figure it out and do it by myself,” she explained.
Adaija chose California as a destination because she has a friend who lives here. When she arrived, she first stayed at Option House, a local domestic violence shelter, which in turn referred her to stay at Mary’s Haven.
Mary’s Haven, formerly known as Veronica’s House of Mercy I and II, is a ministry of the nonprofit Catholic organization Mary’s Mercy Center, which was founded by Father Michael Barry, SS.CC, in 1992. The shelter’s former name was a reference to the name of the shelter’s first resident, but in March 2021 it was rebranded as Mary’s Haven in honor of the Blessed Mother.
The shelter offers a safe alternative to domestic violence, substance abuse, homelessness or abortion. Unlike many shelters that limit stays to 30-60 days, Mary’s Haven is a long-term transitional shelter in which residents stay for 12-24 months. It is the kind of place that the Church in California is highlighting these days in the informational campaign “We Were Born Ready,” which is meant to galvanize Catholics to support women and families facing unplanned pregancies, and oppose Proposition 1, a November state ballot initiative that would enshrine the right to abortion in the California Constituion.
“What we offer is a two-year window that really eliminates a lot of the pressure of having to try to figure out something today about where you’re going to be tomorrow,” said Mary’s Mercy Center Executive Director Dan Flores Flores. “We give the moms an opportunity to bring that stress level down and also start to plan long term where they want to be, their goals and aspirations, and give them some stability.”
During their stay, the women are given support to help get them back on their feet, including therapeutic and counseling services and educational and professional support such as a GED program for women who don’t have a high school diploma and postsecondary education or training to help get them on track for a career.
Currently, Mary’s Haven houses about 11 mothers and 16 children. The shelter can hold up to about 15 mothers and their children, or around 40-50 people total. It is set up like a home, and residents eat, cook, clean and pray together in community.
“It’s a big family communal environment where they support one another and hold each other responsible and accountable for everybody doing their chores, doing their part,” said Flores. “This sense of rebuilding and reconstituting a family and a community is really the core of what Mary’s Haven and Mary’s Village (a men’s homeless shelter) are all about.”
Another woman currently staying at Mary’s Haven, Cynthia, called the shelter and what it has done for her “a miracle.” A native of Long Beach, she had been struggling with depression and anxiety and coping with alcohol, as well as dealing with a violent and emotionally and verbally abusive home situation. When her family was threatening to take her son, she went to rehab to try to keep him. A counselor referred her to Mary’s Haven.
Cynthia said that services Mary’s Haven offers, such as a parenting program, a domestic violence class and a life skills class, have benefitted her a lot. “I’m really learning to heal who I am and really be intentional about the type of parent I want to be,” she said. “I’ve really grown so much because of having the opportunity to do [these programs].”
“[The shelter] really gives women the space and the grace to build from the ground up. So many times we’re building on eggshells, there’s no stable foundation. But here we’re able to really create the life that we want for ourselves, the life that we never thought we could have for ourselves, to break generational cycles and create a better life for our children,” said Cynthia.