Get to know First Step Shelter's new executive director.
Mark Geallis was recently selected to take on the role of executive director for the First Step Shelter as the organization moves forward with settling in a permanent home.
Geallis moved from Chicago to the Volusia County area in 1976 and was previously the executive director of Halifax Urban Ministries.
Where were you before moving into this new role at First Step?
I was with Halifax Urban Ministries for a little over five years. They take care of the poor and homeless and are focused on homeless families throughout the community. I was their executive director for my last two-and-half years there, which ended in the middle of 2017. And I was their development director, fundraiser and events person for my first two-and-a-half years there at the beginning of 2012.
What made you interested in being a part of First Step?
In my work back at Halifax Urban Ministries and also in my position as a board member for several years on the local commission on homelessness, my focus and really the calling of my heart has been the single and chronic homeless individuals on our streets.
What kind of need have you seen in this area?
We as a community have done a very good job over the last five or six years of housing programs and shelter improvements for families with children, which is about 40% of the homeless population. But what that has left us with is the remaining part of the homeless population, which are the single homeless people on the streets who are also those that are not only most visible but most troubled and the hardest to rehabilitate. So many people don't see the great improvement we've had over the last five or six years because what we're left with is still the visible population. Many homeless prefer to stay out of sight; many homeless families used to live in cars so they weren't visually noticed by the average citizen, and we've done a good job helping those homeless people. Now we have to focus on the ones that we're left with, which will be the hardest to help, but we can succeed in lifting many of them up.
What are the main goals you want to start focusing on?
I want to make sure that first step shelter becomes a place that offers great programs to help homeless individuals heal and be lifted up out of homelessness. In order to do that we need to have adequate funding. The local municipalities and county have put up enough money to put up the building and provide a bare bones operating budget for the first couple of years. But we need more than bare bones in order to really change lives; we need the funding to partner with other agencies to offer in-house work programs, training programs and to have enough case managers on staff to spend adequate time with people to really counsel them and overcome homelessness.
What is your first plan in this role?
It's going to be meeting with all of the partners — Halifax Health, Stuart Marchman, the architect, Catholic charities and my board members. One of the board members said, "you realize that now you are us," which I kind of took to heart because I will be the face of the organization and representing each of those board members so I need to get to know them, understand what motivates them to this mission and represent them well. That's going to be the first step over the next couple of weeks. Then I need to immediately get to work fundraising because as I mentioned, I really want this to be a model program that others in the country look at for how to do a shelter right. There are many bad shelters, and there are a few good shelters that I have personally visited over my years in the homeless service industry and I want to be one of the best, and this will take some additional funding beyond what the municipalities have offered.