BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — The list goes up on the lobby bulletin board of Vive La Casa and the refugees who've come from their rooms tentatively approach and scan for their names. The lucky ones will take a taxi to Canada the next day for a crucial step toward a dreamed-of new life there.
Maxene Youyoute, long dreadlocks falling from beneath a black cap, shakes his head. The 40-year-old Haitian is not on the list. Again. But he smiles and high-fives a Palestinian man who, after a 15-day wait at the Buffalo shelter, is beaming at the sight of his name.
Tomorrow will be his chance to convince Canadian immigration officers that he should be allowed into the country, where he hopes to seek refugee protection.
Until recently, this daily scene at Vive La Casa appeared to be in jeopardy. After a 30-year run as a waystation for asylum seekers, the shelter was in a constant battle with debt and costly upkeep that meant the threat of closing loomed.
But it has found a way to keep the lights on.
Jericho Road Community Health Center, which has provided medical care to the men, women and children that Vive serves, said last week that it will buy the fellow nonprofit and take over its services, thanks in part to a $60,000 grant from the John R. Oishei Foundation.
For health provider Jericho, it is an expansion of services to Buffalo's ever-growing immigrant and low-income base.
For Vive, it means the list of between two and 10 names sent by the Canada Border Service Agency will continue to be posted each morning at the converted school building on Buffalo's impoverished east side, which attracts many Canada-bound claimants because of its proximity to the northern border.
It is a small but striking daily moment for acting director Shelly Schratz, who knows the clients' stories of fleeing war, terrorism, persecution or natural disaster.
"I remember when I was in high school and I tried out for a play and I remember running to see if I had made the list, or the athletes running to see if they made the football team," she said, "and I think to myself, oh my God, we take life for granted."
"There's these people here and all they want is their name on that list, because it's their life," Schratz said. "That list means, 'we have a chance at our life.'"
Vive's clients — from Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Colombia, Afghanistan, Ethiopia and elsewhere — arrive in the United States legally, sometimes as students or temporary residents. When they move for asylum, mostly in Canada but also the United States, they stay at the 118-bed shelter while Vive's legal staff helps prepare their case and, for those bound for Canada, arrange for an interview with Canadian immigration officials at the border. The officials decide whether the claimants meet the criteria for entry into Canada, most often by having a close relative there.
Some are in and out of Vive within days. Others must wait several weeks, sometimes for interpreters to become available, other times because passports, birth certificates or other documents are missing and need to be replaced.
"Understandably so, people are fleeing and coming in some pretty chaotic situations where they're not really thinking, 'can I get my birth certificate?'" Canadian Services Manager Jake Steinmetz said.
Vive was established by nuns in a converted Catholic convent in 1984 in response to a surge in refugees from civil wars in Central and South America. But keeping the doors open has been a struggle since county and federal funding, about a half million dollars a year, was cut in the 1990s. Since then, it has relied on private donations and small fees paid by its clients.
Vive, which estimates it has helped 90,000 people, will clear the way for about 2,000 more to interview in Canada this year. Because of the staff's expertise — ensuring forms are properly filled out, documents are in-hand and conditions are met — more than 90 percent are expected to be allowed in, Steinmetz said.
The interview at the border is particularly important, he said: Canadian law requires those denied entry to wait a full year before trying again.
Vive's reputation has spread far and wide through word of mouth. In September, two Afghanistan police officers who vanished from drug trafficking training in Washington, D.C., showed up at Vive's door, 400 miles away. But the pair apparently was scared off, Schratz said, and disappeared during the night.
The Drug Enforcement Administration announced later that day they had been picked up in Buffalo and would be returned to Afghanistan.
Youyoute, from Haiti, hoped work would be easier to come by in Canada than in his home country, still rebuilding from the 2010 earthquake.
"I feel a little bad," he said after another day, his fifth, of scanning the list for his name. "But I don't have any choice. I wait."