The chronically homeless suffer from unique issues, compared to the temporarily homeless or displaced. Mental health issues or physical disabilities, along with drug or alcohol addiction, often play a part in this concerning problem. Combine these challenges with the normal difficulties of homelessness – unsafe or violent conditions, hunger and malnutrition, and lack of medical care – and there is an obvious need for caring volunteers willing to work with this community. The following tips can help you when working with the chronically homeless community.
Tip #1: Be honest
This is the most difficult skill to learn. You need to be honest and forthright. Don't lie about your background to try and make a connection – your lie will likely be obvious and then the people you are trying to help will no longer trust you. Instead, keep conversations light. Talk about current events, favorite music or sports teams, or your favorite hobbies. Humor is wonderful, but avoid boasting. It's really no different than meeting new people at a party or anywhere else, the only difference is the person you are speaking to now doesn't have a home. It can take time and perseverance, but think of this as making a new friend and you will be on the right conversational track.
Tip #2: Be approachable
When it comes to your clothing, the goal is to be approachable and comfortable. Showing up in a three-piece suit isn't going to win you much favor, but at the same time you don't want to dress down so much that it looks like you are mocking the apparel of the people you are trying to help. Instead, dress casually and comfortable. Jeans or slacks, sneakers, and a T-shirt are suitable attire for summer.
Tip #3: Be safe
If you stick with this type of volunteering, you will likely become somewhat close to some of the people you are helping. Still, it is important to remain vigilant about you and your family's safety. Don't share information such as where you live and avoid giving too much detailed personal information. In the same vein, avoid prying too much into the lives of those you are helping. Don't ask them where they sleep or for personal details, like information about their family or why they are homeless. If they choose to volunteer this information, fine, but don't ask. Some of this info can actually compromise their safety, such as if they are homeless because they are hiding from a violent family member.
Contact a homeless shelter in your area like Union Gospel Mission Twin Cities to volunteer. It's best to enter this line of volunteering under the oversight of professional and trained social workers.