Updated: Jun 27, 2020
This is the third interview piece in our series to highlight members of The Haven staff. The Haven, a day shelter for the homeless in Charlottesville, has continued to offer breakfast, lunch, and dinner to guests during the COVID19 pandemic. The ultimate goal at The Haven is to help people who have fallen into homelessness find secure housing. This is a laborious task, so The Haven offers daily meals, showers, bathrooms, laundry, health services, and social services to guests throughout the process. The Haven is truly an epitome of community, empathy, and solidarity in Charlottesville. Through a series of interviews with the staff, we hope to show the greater Charlottesville community what this remarkable place is all about. If you’re interested in supporting The Haven, COVID19 Student Service Corps (CSSC) at UVa has created several ways to contribute at the end of this article. This week’s staff member is Laura DeLapp, the Shelter Supervisor.
1. What brought you to Charlottesville?: “I grew up in Charlottesville, and my family is in this area, so that pretty much kept me here my entire life. I’m raising my kids in the same schools that I went to and it's been special to watch them go to the same schools that I attended in Albermarle County.”
2. What is your role at The Haven?: “Basically my role is doing everything from screening guests when they come through the door, to documenting temperatures, to making sure guests can get in to do their laundry and shower. I adhere to whatever the guests' needs are when they enter the shelter, and continue to be their ‘go-to’ person. Before COVID, we didn’t do any temperature screening and it was one of those situations where the building was open to anyone including guests that were housed. They could come down and we could help them apply for benefits, fill out unemployment applications, and other social services that can be difficult to apply to without the necessary resources. Despite COVID, I still build relationships with guests, that hasn’t changed, but we can’t do face to face meetings like we used to.”
Why did you get involved with The Haven?: “I actually started with PACEM and doing intakes and some overnight shifts, if needed. PACEM is a grassroots organization that provides wintertime shelter for homeless individuals. PACEM is only open 6 months out of the year, and I was so worried about the people who I wouldn't see for 6 months. I knew I wanted, and needed, to get involved somehow in those other 6 months of these people’s lives. I received a call from Rob, and he said ‘Your director at PACEM gave me your info, are you interested in coming to work at The Haven?’ It was funny because I wasn’t looking for a job, I was working somewhere else. But, those 6 months were such a worry for me because when you get to know the guests, what triggers them, their stories, what makes them laugh— they become family and when you have to be away from family for 6 months you worry. Are they okay? Do they have a bed tonight? Are their health needs being taken care of? Are they on the street? It’s really hard to grow so close to these people and then just walk away for 6 months, so I knew I had to accept when Rob called.”
What are your 3 favorite hobbies?: “Right now, with all of these phases of opening and what not, one of my favorite things is going to the river. We take the kids there so everyone can get out of the house and just be outside for a while and escape. I’ve also been weight lifting, sort of out of necessity and for stress relief. I was working at the gym and now I’m having to do everything at home so I’ve had to get creative, and weight lifting has been my most effective at home workout. I also love cooking, I spent 25 years as a general manager in restaurants. I helped open Ragazzis, Sticks, Zinburger and ended up leaving Zinburger to be a general manager for Applebees on 29. Then I had a leg injury and couldn’t be on my feet for the hours the job required, but I love people and interacting with them, and I wasn’t getting it being in restaurants. I was breaking up the bar fights, and dealing with unhappy customers, but that wasn’t fulfilling my desire for relationships with people. I have always loved connecting with people, I wanted something different and I wasn’t happy managing restaurants.”
What is the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning?: “Fix coffee. A day without coffee is not a good day.”
What is a good habit you have developed and hope to maintain post quarantine?: “Typically I would get up, put on makeup, and that sort of thing. But wearing a mask, there is literally no need for that now, nobody sees your face anyway, so that’s been kind of nice. I also think I’ve been keeping more of an eye on our guests. They come in during the day, and normally you get so many people in and out that it’s hard to maintain focus on one person. But now, with the numbers being smaller, I can do daily check ins and ask people ‘hey how ya feeling?’. It keeps me on top of those guests and what they need, by allowing me to spend more time with them individually. I hope that ability to truly connect with each person and focus on them remains after COVID.”
What is something you’ve stopped in quarantine and are glad that you did?: “My family typically would eat out a lot, and now we don’t do that. We have more time to cook at home, so that saves money and it’s something I enjoy, that we can all do together.”
What is one thing you wish you could have told your college age self?: “I would have told myself that there would definitely be days like this. In my 20’s, I was living life, not a care in the world. Now when I sit back and look at some of the things I did back then, that reality hits. Something could have happened and I might not have made it to this point, so I would’ve told my 20’s self that life is precious. Life is precious, and you should really cherish every moment of it.”
What else should we know about you?: “I have 5 fairly young children myself, so I balance my time between them and my other 60 or more children; our guests. I really am a mother figure to them and sometimes they love me for it, sometimes they hate me for it. When I put on the mom voice, they know that I’m serious. Some of the guests are older than I am, and they call me Ms. Laura and I say ‘do not call me that, that’s my grandma. I want to be called Laura, I am a person just like you.’ But yeah, I have almost 100 ‘children’ in this area that I love and care for.”
What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned working here?: “Mental illness and addiction tend to go hand in hand, and it’s a problem that is often overlooked when it comes to dealing with the homeless population. People think ‘oh they’re just lazy, they don’t want to do work or try, or whatever’. There can be other things going on like PTSD, depression, or other underlying conditions that cause them to be in that situation. There may be a dynamic relationship between the mental illness and drug abuse that may make it more difficult for some to maintain jobs, or find stable housing and people don’t think to dig deeper and understand those underlying conditions. They just judge the situation.”
What is a misconception people have about homelessness or homeless individuals?: “I would have to say that the biggest misconception people have is that it's a choice that people have. Sometimes it is, but it’s not always a choice due to mental illness or drug addiction, and inability to reach the care that they need. Systematically, I have also seen people lose the ability to choose, and access stable housing. In the Charlottesville area, there is a huge need for low income housing. If you have someone working a minimum wage job, and they have kids, and they have to pay $1,150 or more a month to be housed, it’s impossible. If you look at the pricing for areas around Charlottesville, some of them are starting at $800 for one bedroom per month. That simply is not affordable working a minimum wage job, especially if you’re supporting children and a family in addition to yourself. If not low income housing, we need more shelters. We have the Salvation Army and that’s it. Charlottesville is huge and we have people coming in from other counties, and PACEM is only running 6 months a year. So outside of those 6 months that PACEM is open, you’re on your own to find somewhere to lay your head at night.”
Jeannie: Do you feel that UVa has played a role in the scarcity of low income housing available in Charlottesville?: “UVa definitely plays a role in the lack of low income housing. Charlottesville is an old money town, and UVa brings in that money. UVa drives up rent where they buy land, and to rent any property on that land, you’re going to need immaculate credit. You’re also going to have higher rent just to be in those areas, in and around the university.”
Laura is one of many staff members who make The Haven and all of it’s wonderful services possible. The Haven relies on support from our community to keep it’s doors open and services available, so if you’re interested in donating to, or volunteering with The Haven through CSSC, our website has information on how to do so (https://www.communityamongchaos.com/Projects/The-Haven--Support-Team). Or, you can visit The Haven’s official website (https://www.thehaven.org) for ways to donate time and resources. If you have any questions, comments, or concerns about this article, please contact Jeannie Taylor (email@example.com).