North Simcoe’s Guesthouse Shelter couldn’t remain a haven for those seeking food and shelter without the dedication if its volunteer base.
Newly-hired Events & Volunteer Coordinator Darlene Lucas understands the benefits to both volunteers and those they serve, because she used to help out at the Guesthouse herself.
“I started this role on October 16th, 2023. I had volunteered here prior to COVID-19, but I was also working out of town. I decided at the beginning of this year I wanted to work closer to home, and this was the perfect match,” she said.
“When I volunteered here, I wanted to become friends with folks who came in. I’d serve dinner, then sit and chat with people. I needed them to know they mattered to me, and I made some great friendships.”
The Guesthouse Shelter is outfitted with 18 beds, and is full nightly. There’s also a dinner program for those who need it, and Lucas sees the need increasing.
“We provide service with no judgment or discrimination, and with the housing crisis, the number of people experiencing poverty and houselessness just keep going up.”
In the wake of COVID-19, attrition has taken its toll on the amount of active volunteers. It’s Lucas’s job to get things back on track.
“Getting volunteers back in is so important, and every bit helps. We couldn’t do this without them. During the pandemic, we couldn’t have volunteers. A few did prep for meals, but that was it due to safety measures,” she said.
“But now the need is there again, so we created volunteer job descriptions and are maintaining volunteer lists. It’s also big for the social aspect for clients, to add variety and new people to the center.”
For those who want to get involved, there are many unique opportunities in and around the shelter, including assisting with fundraising efforts, social media, advocating in the community, searching for, accepting and arranging donations, and others!
The relationship between volunteers and clients of the shelter is symbiotic – The volunteers feel good for being able to help, and clients get to have contact with and receive care from those in their community.
“For our guests, volunteers around, shows the community is there for them. They see us coming together and feel like they do matter. We are protecting the most vulnerable in our community,” she said.
“For volunteers, it teaches them about change, acceptance and understanding. They get to see and meet people from different walks of life and feel they’re making a difference.”
A huge part of what the shelter does is around reducing stigma and helping people, no matter what they may be dealing with.
“Our doors are always open. I hear people in town complain about loitering, but when you have nowhere to go, there’s nothing to do. We are going into colder weather, and we always want to be a space for the most vulnerable. There needs to be compassion and places for people,” she said.
“Healing begins by people caring. It doesn’t cost a thing to smile and say ‘hello’ to people. Discrimination and stigma can continue in a cycle around mental health and addictions. But we also must understand some people just can’t afford housing with a minimum wage job. Kindness will go a long way right now.”
While the shelter does its best to provide community resources – housing assistance, financial services and more – a large part of why they want to expand is to bring more services under their umbrella in one place.
“Having a hub with different organizations in one place is so helpful. Moving forward, we want all kinds of services here so that people can get the help they need. We just want to be able to do more,” said Lucas.
“Right now we are focused on volunteers. To help people is a team effort, and we want to be able to come together as a community and truly help people.”