Since I just advised you to check around at different homeless service providers, to find out what is offered in your area, I feel I must give you a bit of warning. Just like any other advertisement for a product, the truth is often stretched. When researching homeless service providers, especially by way of their websites, understand that they are attempting to put the very best face they can on their product. And in doing that, they often exaggerate, and sometimes mislead. The main audience for websites about homeless service providers are people looking to donate money or volunteer their time. And with so much work to be done, and so little people to help, there is a competition between homeless service providers for money and volunteers. In most cases, volunteers=donations.
A day shelter may say that they offer free hair cuts to the homeless, but they’ll leave out the details that hair cuts are only available 1 day a month, and only 20 people will be allowed to sign up for the haircuts on a first come first serve basis – and that the shelter will have certain pet projects who will be put on the list ahead of anyone else. At the Nashville Rescue Mission, a sign still hangs in the front reception area that says “Haircuts” and below it an arrow pointing to the right. But in the 9 some years the mission has been open, I don’t believe anyone has ever received a hair cut there. Since other things are also mentioned on that sign, duct tape has only recently been placed over the word “haircuts.” Still, if there are any barbers in the Nashville area, who would be willing to cut homeless people’s hair for free, please contact the mission. I’m sure they would be glad to have you set up shop there.
Do not limit your search of homeless service providers to website searches. Find out where they are located and go visit them in person. And if you are willing, mix in with the rest of the homeless population to get a real feel for the place. If you ask for an official tour of a shelter, then you are going to get the official shpeel, or spin. But you won’t get the full story of what happens there. Instead, talk to the people who reside there, and to the volunteers and workers who have daily contact with the homeless, and are the one’s who actually provide the services. At the Nashville Rescue Mission, they operate with an “up stairs, down stairs” philosophy. The administrators work upstairs and are segregated from the actual work of the mission. They rarely if ever have direct contact with the homeless, and downstairs is where all the actual services for the homeless are provided. The homeless must stay downstairs, and only the employees and “program men” of the mission are allowed to travel between the floors. (Program men are homeless people who have agreed to work for the mission in exchange for better lodgings and a promise of rehabilitation. I’ll discuss rescue mission rehabilitation programs in another post.)