Everyone can help the homeless. Seriously, anyone with the desire to help the homeless can do so – regardless what others might say.
As with any endeavor, a person’s ability to help is limited only by their knowledge of the subject and their desire to do excellent work. Still, anyone can learn about homelessness if the have the desire to do so. There is no special mystical wisdom involved, although having a heart for the homeless certainly helps.
There is no university, no dedicated trade school, no field of academics, that teaches specifically about homelessness. Everyone who works with the homeless has learned how to do so on the job. Some believe that the people working with the homeless had themselves been previously homeless, but that is not usually the case. Most organizations that work directly with the homeless have policies in place that require formerly homeless people to have been unhomeless for a period of a year or two before considering them for employment. By that time, most formerly homeless people don’t really want to go back, even if to help others. They just want to move on with their lives, and that’s perhaps a good thing. Now, there are some shelters, usually run by religious organizations that will hire a homeless person. Not surprisingly, those are usually the worst run shelters with the least success in helping homeless people permanently move off the streets.
If you know very little about homelessness, volunteering with a feeding program would be a good place to start. Then as you grow in knowledge about homelessness, you can try your hand at other things. Most service providers offer a wide range of services, so there are many different types of jobs you can do. If, after a while, you are wanting to doing more, see if their are any out reach workers in your area, and ask them if you can apprentice with them. Out reach workers usually travel on foot around a city, and take services to the homeless. There are always homeless people who, for whatever reason, refuse to go to a shelter or other service provider for assistance. It is usually those people who are most in need of help. The outreach workers I’ve known have usually been willing to have someone travel along with them.
The most important thing people should consider is the demand that will placed on them by the homeless. Homeless people are emotionally injured people, and they need a crutch. They have a tendency to lean emotionally on the employees of homeless service providers. Just imagine 200 to 500 people every day leaning on you for emotional support. That can be quite a heavy weight to bear, and it will wear you down. The homeless do need that kind of support and it’s good to provide it. Just know that bearing up under that kind of burden for an extended period is impossible. That is why it’s important for people working in the homelessness industry to have term limits. After two years of such work, it can change a person, and not for the better. What I have found is that people working with the homeless for longer than two years tend to begin distancing themselves from the homeless, and become emotionally detached from their work. That’s just not good for the homeless people they are serving. It would be better for these people to step down, or step aside and allow other, fresher, people do the front line work.