Conversations are rare at the Men’s Shelter, and even with sunlight streaming through the repurposed nursing dormitory windows, the atmosphere is muted and heavy.
Sharon DeLalla is hoping to change this. The ex-Talitha Koum executive brings her experience working with women overcoming addiction to the Archdiocese of Vancouver men’s hostel as its new manager.
The shelter, in the former nurses residence at St. Paul’s Hospital, has traditionally focused on offering homeless men a roof over their heads and a place to get their bearings and find their feet, which is more complicated than it sounds. Unfortunately, DeLalla told The B.C. Catholic, there is a growing awareness amongst other organizations working with the homeless that “the things we are doing don’t seem to be working.”
The shelter moved to its Comox Street location in late 2020 after offering services at 150 Robson Street for 61 years. DeLalla wants to help the shelter explore the boundaries of what is possible.
“We need to get away from the idea that there is one solution,” she said.
“I would love for us to be a transformative ministry, to provide support and education so that we can be the change agent for the men when they are ready,” she said.
DeLalla wants to extend the help offered by the shelter, past housing into all and any areas that shelter guests might need help – everything from social support systems, which can be incredibly difficult to navigate, to emotional, physical, and psychological support.
Moving forward, DeLalla wants the shelter to focus on community building as an outgrowth of the shelter’s mission to provide men with a stabilizing environment. Simply put, she wants the hostel to be a place where the men staying there feel they are loved unconditionally and that they have worth.
The shelter recently put on a birthday event to celebrate all the men having birthdays during the month. Before cutting everyone some cake, DeLalla told the men she hopes they know they are valuable and that everyone at the shelter cares for them.
The event demonstrated some of the challenges facing the shelter. Even while the men in attendance were glad for the celebration, not all residents were enthusiastic to join in the festivities.
Still, small acts of kindness are everywhere – one resident quickly mopped the floor after a spill – if you take the time to look. It is clear that the men know each other, and there is a sense of comradery that could be a solid foundation to build on.
One challenge facing the shelter has been staffing. Due to its 24/7 nature, the hours can be demanding, and it has been challenging to retain the help they need.
Despite this, those who work at the shelter feel a powerful sense of mission and emphasize that the shelter has given them the gift of service.
“And there is joy,” guest advocate Lalpi Guite said in an interview with the Archdiocese of Vancouver’s Communications Office while discussing how the shelter has allowed him to live out the call of Christ to feed the hungry and cloth the naked.
“But the goal is to serve people. It’s out of our hands. I am here to set the table, and God will do the rest,” he said.
“Recently one of our guys was on his way to detox. On his way out, he said to me, ‘Thank you. You are one of the first guys who treat me like a human being: you look me in the eye,’” said Guite. “This is not something special out of me; this is something we all can do. It is definitely a privilege to be able to do this.”
Guite says the shelter is an excellent place for someone who likes a challenge. “There are no boring moments. If you like the challenge, if you are wired for improvisation, the challenges and questions come from all angles, and you have to do things and change things at the spur of the moment,” he said.
Additionally, DeLalla believes that culture-building is needed within the organization. She is committed to making the shelter a place of growth and support, not just for the residents but for employees.
She also hopes students and other individuals looking for unconventional hours should strongly consider the shelter as a place of employment.
“Come and visit us and see the work that we do,” DeLalla said. “We provide a good environment for learning and growth.”