Coming into the Warming Room as a volunteer is a bit daunting and intimidating all at once. My first day I sat wide eyed and just not knowing what to expect, I thought I was somehow different from the homeless. After volunteering a few months I have come to understand a few things.
It is not “us and them,” rather it’s “we.” Every Guest has their own story and I have been honoured to hear a few. Many Guests have taught me that they’re only there because life has just dealt them a difficult hand. Many have not the family support or resources I have. Given their circumstances I would be homeless too. I’m no brighter, tougher or hardworking than our guests. No, actually they are the survivors. I’ve heard stories of how being in jail is so much easier than the rejection of walking the streets every day trying to find work and a warm place to stay. I’ve heard the frustration of the guy whose ID was stolen and cut off from the system for weeks. It’s not easy getting ID when you have no fixed address… Or the woman trying to understand basic application forms when she struggles with literacy. I see many of our guests as heroes just for getting through the day. It takes a strong person to get out of bed and walk the streets at -10 with cold feet. They are often mentally and physically tougher just because they have had to be. Many people who are homeless have addiction issues just like those of us who sleep in our own beds every night. Many have mental health issues just like those of us who go to work every day. As a matter of fact, were it me in their circumstance, I doubt I would be doing so well.
I’m no expert but I think that one of the 1st things we need to give people is respect and empathy. Look at those of us who have less. Say hi! Pretending you don’t see the homeless or looking past them hurts. Simple acknowledgement is a start.
I have seen acceptance in this community that I have not seen elsewhere in my experience. Folks here do not judge rather just accept people where they are at. Wow, many of us could learn from that! I’ve also seen tremendous generosity. I’ve seen people give from what little they have rather than from the “extra” they might have and won’t miss. I’ve seen people who are homeless share their last cigarette with others who need a smoke. I had a guest buy me a drink at the Venue fundraiser. Wow, I was humbled, as I’m sure that was sacrificial giving on his part. I feel privileged to be able to serve in such a place, instead of being the giver, it is I who have received.