Of all the needs of Viola’s Place, compassionate volunteers top the list.
There is plenty of food, dishes, warm bedding, a comfortable living room area complete with sofa, armchairs, books and games and a large-screen television, and enough beds for eight people. Separate male and female washrooms provide an opportunity for guests to enjoy a hot shower in a private setting. There are even sleeping bags for those who prefer to sleep under the stars.
What there is not enough of is people.
Viola’s Place Society has been operating for almost 18 months, having first opened the doors of the homeless shelter on October 26, 2018.
“The first three days we didn’t have anyone. And after that, we’ve had guests every night,” says board member Tammy MacLaren.
“We’ve had well over one thousand bed nights — that’s the number of times a person has slept in a bed — since the end of May,” explains Marie Horton, Viola’s Place Society treasurer who has, herself, put in many volunteer shifts at the New Glasgow shelter.
Shelter manager and navigator Lisa Deyoung notes that in May, the shelter hosted 18 different guests.
“I think that’s a lot for a small town,” MacLaren suggests. “That was surprising.”
Deyoung has been on board since the beginning of March. Her work, combined with that of the dedicated volunteers on hand, keeps the shelter running. Viola’s Place open its doors seven days a week – Mondays, Thursdays and weekends it closes at 11 a.m., every other weekday it closes at noon. Doors open every night at 7 p.m.
While at the emergency shelter, Deyoung assists the guests in a variety of ways: she navigates with them in whatever support they want, be it assistance with transportation, mental health, employment, housing, income assistance or other need.
“Some of our guests arrive with nothing, so we are so fortunate that we have the resources to help them,” MacLaren says. Hygiene kits containing items like toothbrush and toothpaste, deodorant, socks, razors, snacks, shampoo and conditioner and body lotion and even gift cards are on hand for the comfort of guests. All of those necessities have been donated.
Viola’s Place (https://www.facebook.com/violasplacesociety/) has been working hard to raise funds to keep the shelter open and is trying to secure permanent funding, but until then relies on the generosity of local businesses and individuals who provide goods, services and cash.
“We’re waiting to hear on federal funding, says MacLaren. “In the mean time we cannot speak highly enough about all of the towns that came together to buy the building and all of the different businesses and smaller non-profit groups and individuals themselves — there’s hundreds — and their kindness…”
The generosity of the community has been powerful, the three women say. And they will be relying on the support of the community again for fundraising, during events like Ribfest. This exciting event — coming for the first time to Pictou County on August 23-25 which will see ribbers like Camp 31 and Silver Bullet BBQ fire up their grills in a three-day event that promises food, fun and entertainment for the whole family — is important to Viola’s Place which is one of two charities designated to receive the proceeds. Habitat for Humanity will also benefit.
Ribfest’s success will ensure the shelter can keep its doors open.
“All operations will benefit — insurance, utilities, and general operations,” explains Horton. “Our electrical bill is phenomenal.” Cash is also needed to purchase fresh food products like bread and butter but, Horton praises, other food items are donated.
“Our Turn to Cook has been wonderful,” DeYoung praises and Horton adds, “Our freezer is full.”
Ribfest (Pictou County Ribfest) is a unique event, MacLaren notes. “It’s new, we’re new, as is Habitat for Humanity Pictou County Chapter. We created this new event because we’re two new entities and we don’t want to step on the toes of any other group doing fundraising.”
Admission to Ribfest grounds — which will take place in downtown New Glasgow in the area of Glasgow Square — is free. Information on the two charities benefiting from the event will be available onsite and there will also be application forms for interested volunteers.
The other dire need for the shelter to remain open is volunteers. These people would be kind, non-judgmental, compassionate and friendly. A volunteer has to be 19 years of age or older and a criminal background check is required, confidentiality forms have to be signed and volunteers must adhere to a code of conduct — all of the basic requirements of volunteers in any non-profit agency. No experience is necessary and training is provided. An electronic sign-up schedule enables volunteers to pick shifts that fit in with their own lifestyle.
“We have just eight beds and the volunteers we do have are so dedicated so the majority of them are in every week, so they start to build a professional relationship with the clients,” says Deyoung.
MacLaren adds, “Volunteers are key, and we need an army if the doors are going to continue to stay open.”
From the left, Viola’s Place Society board members Tammy MacLaren and Marie Horton with shelter manager/navigator Lisa Deyoung in the living room of the emergency homeless shelter in New Glasgow. They say the need for compassionate volunteers and ongoing financial support are paramount to the shelter keeping its doors open. (Jardine photo)