This is the second part of a two part series
The halls of St. Matthew’s School were once filled with the
sounds of students rushing to their classes, but now the building serves as a
temporary home for refugees awaiting a new life. Vive La Casa (50 Wyoming
Avenue) is housed in the former school building for the St. Matthew’s parish
and has been active there for nearly 20 years.
Vive La Casa is a non-profit organization and the largest
refugee shelter in the country. Refugees come from over 100 different countries
and Vive has served over 80,000 refugees seeking asylum in Canada and the
United States for the last 28 years. The majority of refugees end up in Canada
because the process is much quicker than the United States.
The organization offers legal assistance, housing, meals,
and medical assistance to all those who come through their doors. Sister Louise
Alff led me on a tour of the building which is over 100 years old which has tin
ceilings and hardwood floors in practically every room. However, due to the
extensive use of the building it will be in need of rehabilitation work in the
Although there are many different languages spoken, food is
the great equalizer. Refugees work to prepare meals in the kitchen and at times
there is dead silence because of the language barrier, but they are able to
communicate through food. The organization is also very sensitive to a variety
of different religions, offering a room where all can pray together to whatever
god(s) they believe in.
Similarly to the Altamont program just next door, the
decision to locate to the former school building was due to the price and
access to public transportation. The proximity to Canada was also a big factor
in the purchase. Over 80% of the organization’s funding come from private
donors and religious organizations which keeps Vive’s vision alive.
For more photos of Vive La Casa and the St. Matthew’s Campus check out my Flickr page, Views of Buffalo
^ Prayer room at Vive La Casa which respects all religions
^ Refugees working in the kitchen together