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What might stop you from volunteering to work with homeless people?

(90 Posts)
grannyactivist Fri 08-Oct-21 15:31:24

Just that really.

I live in a small town where there are lots of opportunities for volunteering and a largely retired population who still have the energy to tackle a volunteering role. The local Foodbank, charity shops, clubs and befriending charities all have plenty of volunteers, but although we get lots of good wishes and financial support we cannot seem to get volunteers who are willing to work with us.

At our management meeting last night several people gave voice as to why that might be, but as Gransnet is the right demographic I thought I'd ask the question on here.

If you were looking for a volunteer role what would hold you back from choosing to work with a charity for homeless people? (No judgement here, just a genuine interest.)

SueDonim Fri 08-Oct-21 15:38:10

The reputation for drink, drugs and aggression would be a factor in the nearest unit to me, I think. Whether the reputation is deserved is a different question, of course.

Galaxy Fri 08-Oct-21 15:40:18

It's quite hard to answer unless we know what the roles involve?

Blossoming Fri 08-Oct-21 15:43:00

My impairments limit what I’m able to help with. I volunteer with a disability charity, it’s web-based so can do from home.

Ilovecheese Fri 08-Oct-21 15:46:48

A good, generous friend of mine was taken for a real ride by a homeless man. I am afraid that it has coloured my view. I know this is unfair, I really do, but can't get past it. I think I would be too suspicious of everybody to be able to help them properly.

cornergran Fri 08-Oct-21 15:55:27

Depends on the roles grannya. I’d not see homelessness as a barrier to volunteering. Locally the roles offered to volunteers working with homeless people haven’t fitted with my interests or availability. I made contact some while ago enquiring about a need for advocacy or a listening role, having had professional training in both. Unfortunately the project didn’t need those skills at the time. Thinking more broadly could it be that potential volunteers have a fear of being out of their depth or simply misunderstand how easy it is to become homeless? I’m not sure what I am saying other than for myself a homelessness project wouldn’t be a barrier to volunteering but the type of role offered could be.

Casdon Fri 08-Oct-21 16:13:17

It may just be that there are so many volunteering opportunities out there at the moment, so many charities are desperate?

Scones Fri 08-Oct-21 16:31:07

My husband was homeless himself as a young man and when he retired the first thing he did was sign up to help out at Shelter.

He was the only actual volunteer as his fellow workers were all there as part of their community service. They didn't want to be there and spent the time larking and loafing.

It made for a soul destroying experience for him and sadly he left.

grannyactivist Fri 08-Oct-21 16:36:46

Casdon you're right about there being a lot of charities, but that's not the issue. I'd like to know why someone would choose not to volunteer for a community homelessness project and would give preference to any of the other charities.

Galaxy - your question is the obvious one, but we don't get people asking it because they're not even considering it enough to make contact with us. I will answer it further down the thread, but I'd like to get unfettered responses first.

Blossoming Fri 08-Oct-21 16:39:01

The ‘homeless’ aspect wouldn’t put me off grannyactivist

Galaxy Fri 08-Oct-21 16:46:54

I think that might be part of the problem then granny, if I wasnt clear how I could help you and whether the skills I have were useful then I probably wouldnt contact either. I am a school governor because I knew that I had relevant skills to the role.

Scones Fri 08-Oct-21 16:50:45

OP just a thought, but how easy is it to make contact with your charity? I've volunteered for things and the contacting/information seeking/joining bit has been tortuous and almost put me off.

Do you wait for people to contact you with a general interest so that you can discuss roles? That's all a bit vague I think.
Would you get more interest if you had the roles/volunteering details up front and visible so that people could see exactly what is available and what interests them?

Scones Fri 08-Oct-21 16:51:41

Sorry Galaxy cross post there. I think I've echoed what you've just said.

Germanshepherdsmum Fri 08-Oct-21 16:53:17

I’m not in a position to volunteer unless it’s wfh, but what would worry me is someone violent attaching themselves to me, perhaps finding out where I live. Also emotionally I’m not sure I could cope with the sadness. I feel pathetic admitting this.

Judy54 Fri 08-Oct-21 16:55:32

Hello grannyactivistI don't think it is so much about someone choosing not to volunteer with a community homeless charity but about choosing a charity of their choice. There are so many registered charities and people often choose to volunteer with charities that mean something to them personally, whether that be Cancer Research, British Heart Foundation, Prostate cancer or smaller local charities. I do appreciate how hard it is for charities to find and keep volunteers but it is down to personal choice at the end of the day.

Scones Fri 08-Oct-21 17:04:26

Sorry to keep posting but your challenge really interests me.

Could you speak to other local charities to see what they are doing to attract people and what works for them?

I live in a small town and know that reputation travels far and wide. We have a great charity in town here but people are loathe to volunteer as the man in charge is disorganised, bossy and ungrateful for any help given interesting. Could that be the case for your charity?

Also, what SueDonim said.

Eviebeanz Fri 08-Oct-21 17:14:36

The reputation for drink, drugs and aggression is a factor. I don't think people realise just how easily you could become homeless so people may feel that those who are are somehow feckless. There isn't the cuteness factor of children or kittens or puppies. From experience I know that some of the stories of what brought people to that position are heartbreaking
Also there are often multiple problems, eg physical and mental health, longstanding addictions, relationship break ups etc and it can feel that any help you can give is a drop in the ocean. Also someone can be helped and make great progress, but it can be lost surprisingly quickly and easily so back to square one.

MerylStreep Fri 08-Oct-21 17:22:05


Sorry to keep posting but your challenge really interests me.

Could you speak to other local charities to see what they are doing to attract people and what works for them?

I live in a small town and know that reputation travels far and wide. We have a great charity in town here but people are loathe to volunteer as the man in charge is disorganised, bossy and ungrateful for any help given interesting. Could that be the case for your charity?

Also, what SueDonim said.

I very much doubt it as grannyactivist is the person who set up and runs the charity.
From reading her posts a more reasoned woman you could not wish to meet.

Scones Fri 08-Oct-21 17:25:35

Ah I didn't know that. Agree with you completely about grannyactivist so that definitely not the case then. Sorry grannyactivist no offence intended at all.

grannyactivist Fri 08-Oct-21 17:48:31

Okay; I think we've tried it all, but please give me honest feedback.

We have a website and a Facebook page, and a leaflet that lots of local outlets; churches, libraries, cafes, town and district council offices, GP surgery, cottage hospital etc. have on display. The leaflet gives information about what we can do and what we don't do (more about that in a minute).

Our work is held up as an exemplar and is actively endorsed by the local police (who wrote a very positive article about us in their in-house magazine), our GP surgery (from where we get many of our referrals) and the District and Town Councils. The local newspapers frequently write articles about our work and past clients have been interviewed on radio, TV and in online media.

I have spoken to the Lions, the WI, local churches and held 'events' where people can come along and meet with the caseworkers and some of our clients. We have used newspaper and radio interviews to ask for volunteers - including taking out paid ads.

Ironically we've never really had to spend time fundraising because inevitably whenever we ask for volunteers people tend to send us money instead.

In addition to self-referrals, our clients come to us from GPs, the District council, other charities, social services, the police, our website - and most often via word of mouth. We are easily contactable and usually one of us is available by phone at any given time.

'Drink, drugs and aggression' I would say are rarely the hallmarks of our clients, but before starting a role with us everyone has thorough training in how to deal with this. In six years I've never had a situation worse than having voices raised at me - I'm 68 and 5'2" and the majority of my clients are so grateful to have help they just want to keep me well to carry on doing what I do! grin

Some of our clients are street homeless, but many are not. Of those that are I would say that about half of them are in work. Street homeless can mean a person is living in a tent, in a car, on a bench or in a doorway. The referral is made and we meet the client (in safe pairs of two) in a community cafe, where the staff are also 'on board'. We provide free hot meals and unlimited drinks as long as the client is engaging appropriately with us.

In addition to rough sleepers we deal with people who are fleeing domestic abuse, both males and females, with people being evicted (many at the moment are 'no fault' evictions), with people who have been denied PIP or ESA, and with people whose medical problems are exacerbated by housing issues. (That's a brief snapshot and far from exhaustive.)

Our job is basically to negotiate the best possible outcome for our client, based on a realistic understanding of their needs and what they say they want. So a lot of our time is spent in negotiation with statutory agencies, filling out forms, really listening to people and doing a lot of pragmatic tasks.

This week: I've ordered some clothes online for a gentleman who's been admitted to a care home, provided a phone to a man living in his van who needs it for his shifts to be texted to him, attended an adult safeguarding meeting, arranged a podiatry appointment (feet really do suffer if you're homeless), taken a call from a worried GP who needed advice about a patient, written an article for an upcoming Information Meeting, bought and delivered several bags of food to a field outside town (the FoodBank don't do that), sent off for a birth certificate for a client who has no ID, negotiated immediate accommodation for a man with an urgent medical need (and our brilliant Housing Team work so well with us that my request was very quickly acted upon), had several phone calls with the local PCSOs, booked the venue for our monthly Inter-Agency meeting, and that's not half of it. So you see why we need more volunteers.

My clients are mostly lovely people (actually they look a lot like you), and for the most part it's a privilege to work with and for them. I absolutely love what I do and I know that we make a huge difference in people's lives (some of them are actually alive now who wouldn't be if they hadn't had help. Not everyone engages with us appropriately and those that don't are shown the door and told they can come back when they're ready to receive the help we offer.

Nell8 Fri 08-Oct-21 18:01:28

I used to take warm clothes, blankets and food to a local drop-in centre for rough sleepers until it moved. Unfortunately we had a spate of bogus street beggars who were bussed down from London by a gangmaster. This has made me feel very sceptical about who is a genuine deserving case.
If I was asked if I'd like to volunteer for a homeless charity I would think "What's in it for me? What would I find rewarding?" To be honest I can't think what would be rewarding because I don't know enough about what's involved.

Nell8 Fri 08-Oct-21 18:05:43

Sorry, I was typing as you were posting, grannyactivist.

grannyactivist Fri 08-Oct-21 18:14:42

Thank you Meryl and Scones for your kind words. blush

We are a very small team, but a happy one.

Charleygirl5 Fri 08-Oct-21 18:17:05

I was taken for a ride by a man who was "starving" and I paid for a week+ worth of food. I am aware it is very wrong but I think the vast majority of homeless have been on drugs so I would not help that person. Certainly, in London, it is one of the main problems and I can see it when the person is young, fairly emaciated and the eyes are dull and glazed.
I have offered a sandwich to folk sitting on the pavement but it was either refused or thrown away- they wanted hard cash which I was not willing to give.

Germanshepherdsmum Fri 08-Oct-21 18:28:02

I am in awe of you grannyactivist. Talk about making a difference. Are you able to say where you are based?