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Newport This Week: 'Haunts for Homeless' Changed His Life

By James Merolla

Haunts for the Homeless Director Jef Benson presents the charity’s first donation check to WARM Center homeless shelter’s Executive Director Russ Partridge.Jef Benson was once a homeless addict who lost everything. He lived in a van in a used car lot, and in a shed behind a friend’s house in the middle of winter.

“I lost my marriage, my home, my belongings, dignity, and self-respect,” he said. “I lost friends and even family members. Then, in 2006, I got clean. I was in Pennsylvania in 2010 and was hired in Rhode Island to help design a haunt. I ended up staying here and we started ‘Haunts for the Homeless.’”

Haunts for the Homeless comes to Fort Adams State Park in the 14th annual Fortress of Nightmares later month with the new “Spirits Rising” haunt, which is currently under construction. The build comes via Mohegan Sun casino, where Benson works in the sports and entertainment division.

“Fort Adams and [creative director] Dave Prata welcomed us with open arms,” he said. “They already have an established attraction, Fortress of Nightmares, and we will be adding our haunt to that. They have been so helpful in the setup and building of the haunt, adding us to their marketing, etc. I’m really looking forward to us helping each other. Our haunt brings a new addition to what they have, while they are more than helping us by giving Spirits Rising a home and a chance to help those in need.”

Haunts for the Homeless was established in 2013, but it became stagnant. “We raised some money here and there and donated to a local shelter, but it wasn’t going anywhere,” Benson said. “We wanted to take the charity in a new direction. This year, we’ve changed board members, I became the director and we are reestablishing [ourselves].

“We wanted to have a haunted house that brings awareness to the homeless. Other haunts give to charities, but Spirits Rising was built specifically for a charitable cause. We did a GoFundMe campaign to raise the money for the haunted house and then, basically from out of the blue, we ended up acquiring a haunted house from Mohegan Sun Casino’s Special Events department,” he said. “We’re still doing a GoFundMe campaign to fill in the gaps of everything that we didn’t get from the casino, such as props and maybe additions to the house.”

To donate, visit Fortress of Nightmares or go to

Courtesy of Newport This Week 

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