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What can I do to get help?

(58 Posts)
grannyactivist Thu 10-Sep-20 10:22:03

I run a small homelessness charity and we work with a huge range of people; not only rough sleepers and sofa surfers, but also people who have a range of medical, mental or social afflictions and people facing eviction. We advocate on their behalf with lots of different statutory organisations; the DWP, Police, Council, Jobcentre, PIP tribunals, Doctors etc. Because my colleague and I work for free we have very low overheads and because we have an excellent reputation locally we have no shortage of funds. People (including ex-clients who are back on their feet) fall over themselves to make donations (we were just awarded a substantial sum from local government, unasked for).

What I am desperate for are more caseworkers who will volunteer a couple of hours a day/week to help with the deluge of new cases that are threatening to overwhelm us. I'm taking a day off today for the first time in literally months, because I know that I'm on the edge of my ability to cope and my co-worker is equally stressed. I'm going away for a week's holiday on Saturday, but I know that when I get back there will be new cases for me to deal with.

So my question is, what can I do to encourage people to volunteer with us? We've placed an ad and had an article published in the (very supportive) local paper, I've made pleas on FBs local community page and every church in the town has shared the need, but so far only one person has shown any interest (though lots of people have responded by giving us donations). I know people can be fearful of working with homeless people, but in five years I've only come across a couple of our seventy or so clients whose behaviours were difficult. Generally the majority of our clients are ordinary people who have taken a wrong turn in life or, especially at the moment, they have been two pay cheques away from the streets and now that day has come.

What can I do or say to encourage people to help out (short of paying them)? Any advice gratefully received.

NotSpaghetti Thu 10-Sep-20 10:40:33

I’m sure you have tried contacting your local volunteer bureau or your nearest CVS? Sometimes they are separate.

Just thought I’d post here in case others haven’t seen your post.

Kamiso Thu 10-Sep-20 10:51:04

Have you contacted your WI local federation or Salvation Army. Our W.I. is very active but I know not all groups are the same.

Our local women’s refuge centre is overloaded with “stuff” has willing volunteers but needs someone experienced to help her coordinate the goods. No way to magic up the required experience but possibly a lesson learned for the future.

Septimia Thu 10-Sep-20 11:00:17

I wonder if you could overcome people's caution by inviting individuals to come and help with a specific one-off task.

To ask someone to help you to do something in particular would give them an idea of what the set-up is like and might overcome their fears.

I taught some adult education classes and the organiser wouldn't tell me any details about one group. It turned out they all had mental health problems and she'd been afraid I'd back out. I actually found it really enjoyable. They were lovely people and I wished I could have continued the classes but there wasn't the funding.

So maybe it's a case of letting people 'dip their toes' and hope that some of them come back for another paddle!

Illte Thu 10-Sep-20 11:00:18

If your local paper or community noticeboards can give you space could you try making it more personal? Bear in mind I know very little about your clientele so if I'm way off track forgive me.

So something like:

Can you Thomas?
He became homeless after his divorce when his ex wife and children stayed in the family home.
He needs someone to help him fill in the forms to apply for temporary accommodation.
Youll meet at our offices and it should take about 3hrs of your time.

People like to know what they are letting themselves in for and will often respond to a one off appeal fir an individual. Once they've been successful and have a rosy glow, you can say, "Oh I don't suppose you can help Emma with....."

I know there's a training factor there to be considered. It's just an idea.

Illte Thu 10-Sep-20 11:02:13

Sorry. Can you help Thomas?
There's probably other typos. I'm on my phone with no glasses

Illte Thu 10-Sep-20 11:05:36

Do a talk/presentation for organisations like U3A, Women's Insitute, church group?

Stories of people you've helped (anonymous obviously) so people can get an idea of what's involved?

shandi6570 Thu 10-Sep-20 11:06:28

It's good to see you posting again grannyactivist, I had noticed you were missing. Sorry though, that the reason for your post is in desperation. My thoughts may not be sensible but here they are:

Ask local libraries to put something on their newsletters they e-mail out? (My two different area libraries are doing regular newsletters at the moment, so I presume others are.)

Sounds stupid, but newsagent and/or supermarket notice boards?

If you have the time (maybe not) try searching for local clubs etc and ask them if they have e-mail contact and/or notice boards for their members and would they send out a request for you? Eg. bowls clubs, golf clubs, car clubs, exercise classes, gyms?

I wish you the best and hope you have some success soon. Also that you have a good relaxing holiday and don't take this trouble along with you.

GreenGran78 Thu 10-Sep-20 11:17:15

I think that the ‘specific task’ is the way to go. People are nervous of jumping in blindly. They are afraid that they will be unable to cope/find that it takes up too much time/they don’t take to the people they are working with, etc.
I know that I would be more inclined to accept a request to help as a ‘one-off,’ especially if I had a particular talent which is needed. Even if they didn’t follow through by becoming a regular helper you will have had help for a few hours.
Good luck with your search, and thank you for all that you do.

Jaxjacky Thu 10-Sep-20 11:29:09

I agree with one off, small, short commitments, so people don’t feel ‘trapped’ all day. Could you get get a local radio station involved and do an interview detailing some of these tasks that need assistance? Any local ‘celebs’ that could be approached? Local colleges as part of their courses? Local authorise sometimes have an in house volunteering scheme for employees.

kittylester Thu 10-Sep-20 11:50:14

I was also going to suggest local notice boards, GA. Our village has 3 and I used to often put AS ones in them. Also, our library has a specific board for charities as opposed to just local notices.

I've also trailed round all the local GP surgeries and smiled sweetly at the receptionists, along with libraries in other villages and local paper shops etc.

Have a super holiday and I hope you find help soon.

grannyactivist Thu 10-Sep-20 11:57:34

Thanks for your responses and your helpful ideas.
NotSpaghetti thanks - our local group keep a stock of our leaflets in and are very supportive, but have been unable to find us volunteers.

Kamiso We actually take referrals from the Salvation Army and our local W.I. (I'm a member) has hosted a talk and fundraised for us and a couple of members have kindly become 'befrienders'.

Septimia Yes, we do this from time to time and that's sort of how we got our last caseworker, but she found the job very stressful and also had ongoing family responsibilities so she had to withdraw.

Illte Caseworkers need to be DBS checked before they can have access to confidential information. The form filling is actually one job I would love to pass on, but have you seen the PIP form? It's 37 pages of detailed information that's required, plus additional supporting documentation from GPs, hospitals, social workers et al., so you're right about the training being a factor.

We are very careful not to expose our clients (we live in a small town), but some of them want to tell their stories and our local newspaper is really supportive and happy to publish articles about the work we do, so people are aware of what some of the positive outcomes are and have read the lovely success stories of people who are no longer homeless. The local police have written very positively about our work and the District Councillors very publicly endorse what we do. I have already spoken at a great many local gatherings and the outcome is that we are given a great many unsolicited donations and people are always offering to fundraise for us, but no-one seems to want to actually work with people.

shandi6570 Every church and our two very active local community Facebook pages have included our plea and have been shared by dozens of people, so I doubt that there's a single person in town who doesn't know that we need additional caseworkers. It was even the headline the newspaper advertised on its boards outside the local shops this week. (See photo)

At least your posts are telling me that I haven't missed something that's glaringly obvious - I just don't know what else to try. If we were in different times I would hold a meeting and ask a few of our past clients to take part, but obviously that's not possible at the moment and won't be for the foreseeable future. I suppose part of the problem is that it's actually a real job, but one of the reasons for our continuing success is that the people we work with have often been let down by paid workers and they trust us because we're not doing it for payment.

Lucca Thu 10-Sep-20 12:03:53

May I ask which part of the country you are in ?

Iam64 Thu 10-Sep-20 12:23:19

I wonder if some of the difficulties relate to the pandemic and fears of coming into contact with the disease. Many regular volunteers are in the older age group so extra fearful. Do you have a college or Uni nearby with training for carers/social workers etc ? I expect you've tried everything granny activist given your long experience but younger people who want to get onto such courses may be prepared to volunteer to gain experience

H1954 Thu 10-Sep-20 12:25:17

I have sent a PM grannyactivist.

lovebeigecardigans1955 Thu 10-Sep-20 12:27:07

Could you get an interview with a local radio station? They could run a story and then an appeal, maybe.

grannyactivist Thu 10-Sep-20 12:33:34

Jaxjacky Yes, we had our 15 minutes of fame on the radio where the chair of our management board, who is a very skilled communicator, was able to give a brilliant representation of the work we do and spoke of how much we are in need of additional caseworkers.

kittylester we get referrals from our local surgery so they stock all our materials as a matter of course, as do the library, the local churches and both the community cafes.

GreenGran78 we have a small group of wonderful volunteers who will do specific tasks that don't need any particular skill other than being warm and friendly, but what I need is someone who can help with the 'professional' side of things.

Every day I am in discussion with referrers; this might be the police or PCSOs, the local surgery, the Salvation Army, the Community Mental Health Team, the Foodbank manager, the council or members of the public. The client may have mental or physical health problems, have a learning difficulty or be autistic, have a drug or alcohol dependence, be illiterate or highly educated. The situation may be that the client needs help with accessing ESA, a PIP award, needs accommodation, is facing eviction, is escaping domestic abuse, is in debt or has carers responsibilities.

There are many other scenarios that come to mind, but you get the point. We need someone who can be trained to work out what the client wants and then to prioritise his/her needs and take the appropriate action. So it needs to be someone who is comfortable with advocacy work, understands the DWP systems (that seem to change every day at the moment) is unfazed by angry clients and harassed housing officers, can keep confidences and manage client expectations (our newer clients are often distressed that the benefit system isn't as generous as they anticipated). It's a tall order for a volunteer.

3nanny6 Thu 10-Sep-20 12:42:16

Grannyactivist ; what an amazing person you sound and you are working so hard for the homeless. You mentioned you do all your volunteering for free and your colleague also does the same.

I will just make a suggestion and you may not want to do it but have you thought of taking on one paid employed helper who can do all the casework forms. The D.W.P. forms are difficult to do and having an experienced person for that casework would help you. I make that suggestion as I also done much voluntary work and one place where I helped eventually took on one paid help to assist with work , as donations and some funding was coming in this was able to go towards paying the salary of the employed new person
and things worked out very well and much of the work load was eased.

grannyactivist Thu 10-Sep-20 12:42:25

Lucca I'm in Devon.

Iam64 I'm sure there is a fear factor, but it's more to do with the client group than the virus. The problem with taking a Uni student (we have been offered) is that it creates more work than it relieves as the level of supervision, training and feedback that's required is greater than I have time for. If I had a couple of other caseworkers it would be doable and beneficial for us, but at the moment it's too great a commitment.

Charleygirl5 Thu 10-Sep-20 12:51:37

There may be people on GN living near you who would be happy to dip their toe in the water eg a one/off to see if they like the work.

There is a large untapped source out there of which I am one!

grannyactivist Thu 10-Sep-20 14:15:35

Charleygirl5 they would have to have DBS checks and some training before having access to confidential information, so I suspect that would be off-putting unless the person really was prepared to commit to at least an initial period of about six months.

Iam64 Thu 10-Sep-20 21:43:16

Yes of course, obviously students would need training support and supervision.

Ten years of austerity, the devastation of public services and social housing has increased the need you’re trying to meet grannya. The hope was charities would pick up many of the support services. L.A’s funded many such charities but can no longer do that. Apologies you know all this. The work you’re doing is essential. I’ve pmd you

walnutwhip Fri 11-Sep-20 10:04:49

I think people might be wary of taking on a huge amount of responsibility and many will be fearful of your client group, mainly through ignorance I suspect. I agree with those people who have suggested asking for specific tasks - form filling, organising, listening. Can you offer some buddying/virtual hand holding for new volunteers so that they don't feel left to get on with it? Offer references for volunteers once they've completed 6 months (useful for those looking for work or who might see this as a way of a accessing an educational course). Have you thought about social care/social work students? Forgive me if you've already tried all of this! It sounds as if you do a fantastic job but you are close to burnout. Any contacts in the local council who can advise?

inishowen Fri 11-Sep-20 10:37:41

How about contacting local church leaders. They could put the word out for volunteers.

silverdragon Fri 11-Sep-20 10:46:37

Check your local council website to see what they have about volunteering. Mine (Richmond Upon Thames) has a section on volunteers/volunteering. - I've given the link as it might give you some ideas.

Otherwise, this google link,, again presents several options.

You may have gone down these routes but just in case...