My volunteering work at The Urban Ministry began in 2009 after my retirement. The Urban Ministry’s work with the homeless was always of great interest to me, primarily because my volunteering efforts to that point were limited to board work of various non-profits devoted to homeless children. Working with the homeless one on one was something I had always wanted to do, but couldn’t because of my work schedule.
The front desk was where I started volunteering and also where I began to learn some of the issues our neighbors face. From there I became a counselor and began working one on one with neighbors. It was at that point I began to more fully understand the deeper issues, problems and complexities faced by the homeless.
During my first year of counseling I would come home and discuss some of the unique problems faced by people I met with my wife. The scope of the problems stunned me. My perceptions of the homeless while working were far different than the reality they faced.
There were friends of mine who had similar perceptions and occasionally I would talk with them about my experiences. They too were surprised and would ask questions wanting to know more. About a year into counseling I decided to write a book about it. My objectives then are the same today: to give people a first hand view of the issues the homeless face on a daily basis, to give homage to the many organizations that work with the homeless, and to raise money for UMC to continue their efforts. All proceeds from the sale of the book go the UMC. “Conversations with the Homeless” was published last October and is meeting its intended objectives.
I’ve often thought about the qualities a counselor needs to be effective and enjoy the work and concluded two stand out as primary. The first is a sense of empathy and the second is a genuine respect for others. Without these two the time spent won’t be as rewarding.
The needs of the neighbors haven’t changed much since I started counseling five years ago. There are five that stand out.
- Shelter, a place to stay and call home.
- A job that pays a respectable wage, or access to disability income for which they are eligible.
- Transportation, primarily in the form of bus passes, in order to get back and forth to work.
- A phone to take calls from an employer.
Too many of the neighbors work temporary jobs that pay $7.25 an hour. I’ve worked with neighbors trying to develop a budget they can live on and it’s impossible without some type of governmental support. UMC has a job works program and they’re doing some wonderful work. Helping neighbors develop resumes, teaching the basics of a job search, coordinating with employers to hire and working with neighbors after they’re hired to stay on the job. This type of work has the potential to break the homeless cycle for some neighbors.
There is a great need for job counselors and if you have an interest in job counseling please sign up to learn more TODAY.