Homelessness is a significant issue in today's world. It is an issue that can affect anyone at any time. Unfortunately, prejudice abounds, and many people cannot imagine a world in which they find themselves without a home. Choosing to become a homeless shelter volunteer is a compassionate extension of your support to people who really need it.
There is a range of common misconceptions, and many still believe that homelessness happens to individuals who have made mistakes and could have avoided homelessness had they made better choices.
Some imagine that all homeless people have substance abuse issues that have led them down the wrong path. However, homelessness covers a broad spectrum of society.
A huge range of different people in very different situations are in this position. And even those who are addicted may have mental health or other issues that have led them to their current problems. Homelessness impacts families and children too. Without knowing these people and what they have been through, we definitely cannot judge.
Too many of us can be judgemental when we should be kind. Kindness is an underrated characteristic, but it is ever more important in our current world with all its many problems. Cultivating kindness and thinking not of our own needs but of how we can support others is one vital way to make our world a better place.
Becoming a homeless shelter volunteer is just one of the ways we could potentially cultivate kindness and make a real difference in our communities.
People find themselves homeless for a wide range of different reasons. They might, for example:
Homelessness is a complex issue, and there is a considerable range of intricacies in someone's situation that might not be obvious to the casual observer.
Finding accurate homelessness facts and statistics on the number of homeless people in a given country can be challenging. Different nations measure and define homelessness differently. However, certain authorities try to measure estimates, such as the Homelessness Monitor in the UK.
Homelessness does not just include those who are sleeping rough or sleeping on the streets. It can also include families and individuals living in temporary accommodation, homeless households seeking housing assistance from local authorities, and 'hidden homeless' households – those who are living in precarious or unsuitable, crowded living conditions.
The HUD's Annual Point-in-Time Count revealed that 17 out of every 10,000 people in the United States were experiencing homelessness on a single night in January 2019. These people are associated with different regions, family statuses, gender, and racial/ethnic groups.
A number of risk factors are raised among those who find themselves on the streets. Unsheltered homelessness is arguably the most significant issue. This causes a range of vulnerabilities, including, of course, threats to the health and well-being of individuals.
Homeless shelters seek to aid these most vulnerable homeless people by keeping them off the streets and giving them temporary shelter. By providing homeless individuals an alternative to sleeping on the streets, these organizations help to mitigate risks and help people get back on their feet. Homeless shelters are not a long-term solution for homelessness. But they can be a valuable tool to support people in finding their way to more permanent housing options.
Homelessness shelters can only ever be a stop-gap solution. In order to truly tackle the issue of homelessness globally, we need to work to tackle broader societal issues.
The UN's Sustainable Development Goals, such as no poverty, zero hunger, good health, education, decent work, economic growth, reduced inequalities, and sustainable cities and communities, all tie into this issue. Therefore, working towards these sustainable development goals will be crucial in tackling the issue on a broader scale.
Providing more permanent support structures and permanent housing will be crucial to tackling the issue on a more local scale.
But until we tackle issues on national and global levels, homeless shelters are crucial. And we can all help play a role in driving things towards a better, fairer world by volunteering time and/or money and resources to help.
These shelters are often stretched for resources, time, and money. They need volunteer homeless shelter workers to keep things running. In many nations, a lack of public funding means that these homeless shelters rely entirely on charity and the kindness of volunteers to continue their work. This is where you can come in.
When you volunteer at the homeless shelter, you can make a difference and help keep people off the streets. Volunteers can help provide emergency shelter for night stays and keep people who need beds warm, dry, and safe.
There's a range of activities that you might be involved in on a volunteer shift at a homeless shelter. Your time might be spent preparing and serving food through to mentoring young people if you have relevant skills and experience.
How exactly you will be able to become a homeless shelter volunteer depends on where you live and the volunteer opportunities to be found there.
The first thing to do is to seek out homeless shelters or other organizations working with homeless individuals where you live and who might need volunteers. Look out for homeless shelters run by local charities.
Local churches often also have schemes to support homeless people. If you can, visit them directly or check out online sites for these organizations if they have them. Each organization will have a different process for becoming a volunteer.
It is also a good idea to look out for national bodies that support homeless people. They will often be able to point you in the direction of local shelters that might need your help. For example, look at the following organizations in the United States:
You should also check out Volunteer Match – a nonprofit that can link you up with homeless shelter volunteer opportunities in your community.
In the UK, check out the registered charity Shelter, which recruits volunteers to help with their efforts to end homelessness. Crisis is another organization through which you may be able to arrange to volunteer your time to support a homeless shelter near you.
There are also plenty of other national authorities, NGOs, and charities operating homeless shelters around the world. So it is likely that wherever you live, you will be able to google "homeless shelters near me" and find somewhere to volunteer near you.
Note: if you've been asked to undertake court ordered community service, many of these opportunities may not apply, and you're advised to check in advance. Additionally, age restrictions may apply.
Even if homeless shelters themselves are not currently in need of volunteers, you can also often find other ways to donate your time to the cause. For example, you might work in a shop selling goods for a homeless charity. You may also be able to volunteer to prepare or hand out meals or hygiene kits to homeless individuals through food banks, special events, or other schemes.
Volunteers can also find other ways to get involved in supporting the homeless, such as donating old goods or money to the cause.
Many homeless shelters struggle to get by financially. As such, raising money for your local homeless shelter can provide a real lifeline so that the organization can continue to deliver its services. Many creative ways exist, from film screenings to bake sales, to help raise a little money for those with the will to help out.
One important thing to remember about volunteer programs is that it is something you can do at any time of the year. Many volunteers suddenly want to do their part at Christmas, Thanksgiving, or around the holidays. But if you really want to cultivate kindness and do your bit to help, it could be even better to volunteer more at other times of the year when there are fewer other volunteers available.
Of course, we all like to think of others, especially around the holidays. And it is particularly hard to imagine people being without somewhere to go around these special times of the year. But so many people volunteer only around the holidays that you may find fewer opportunities available, while charities and homeless shelters cry out for help when those holiday hoards disappear. To make the most significant difference, donate your time when other people don't.
The benefits of being a homeless shelter volunteer go beyond helping the homeless individuals themselves. Helping others in this way can also bring a range of benefits for you as an individual.
Volunteering at a homeless shelter can give you a great sense of pride and self-worth. It can really boost your personal confidence and make you feel wonderful knowing that you are doing something that really makes a difference in the lives of others.
Some also provide basic training in some of the services that they offer. But you can also get a lot more from the experience. Being kind really can be its own reward.
One of our community members shared her volunteering experiences with us. Several years ago, she volunteered at a homeless shelter, undertaking art and creating writing workshops with the residents. One of the things that really stuck out to her about the experience was the amazing range of people she met.
Simply talking with people and learning about their lives and experiences was a truly fascinating and eye-opening experience. Volunteering at a homeless shelter really does open your eyes to the precarious nature of all our lives.
She met a well-spoken, middle-class former teacher, for example, who had a good job and a home in the suburbs before his marriage broke down and financial difficulties ensued.
This community member also met a grandmother of five whose daughter had sadly died, leaving her to care for them, a veteran of three wars with PTSD, a woman whose abuse as a child and as a young woman had left her damaged but who was slowly finding her way back to health and discovering an amazing talent for art along the way... and so many other interesting people. She really did get as much out of the experience as they did.
Your journey can start with a search for "homeless shelters near me volunteer." Once you've found the right fit, it can benefit our personal development to meet and speak with individuals whose lives have taken different turns from our own. It can help us understand the complexities of the modern world and its issues. But it can also help us see more clearly that there are more similarities between us than things that divide us.
When you volunteer for homeless shelter work, this allows you to hone skills that will stand you in good stead in your own everyday life. Simply learning how to speak to people and resolve issues and potential conflicts can be a useful skill.
You might also volunteer in homeless shelter kitchens and learn cooking or preparation skills that will help you cook and eat more thriftily and sustainably at home. You might also learn transferable administrative or cleaning skills that could help you find paid work in the future.
Some homeless shelters even have food-producing gardens, where you could learn more about growing your food. This could help you to get started with growing your own food at home.
Volunteering at a homeless shelter is not just a kind and ethical thing to do. It can also be beneficial for you as an individual in a wide range of different ways. So, if you want to do something great for people in your community who may have fallen on hard times, seek out volunteering opportunities today. You never know just what might come from the experience.
Homelessness should have no place in a fair and sustainable society. We all need to stand up against injustices and try to eradicate the problem through societal reform. At the very least, we can do what we can to alleviate the suffering of those who, for whatever reason, find themselves on the streets of our communities.
No one should turn a blind eye. At least until we can reach the goal of ending homelessness and reaching the future we all want to see,
Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.
Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.