By Kelsey Holmes, Research Intern at Street Sleeper.
I’ve volunteered before but since starting as an intern at Street Sleeper, I’ve realised that I never fully embraced the meaning of volunteering my time, effort and emotion to a cause. I was pretty nervous before my first distribution day in the Company Gardens, during which we handed out survival sleeping bags to homeless people and engaged with them on a pretty intimate level. I had no idea what to expect or what to say, so at first I let Sarah take the lead.
The first person we approached was Jacques, who seemed rather shocked by our approach and gift of a survival sleeping bag. The best moment of our interaction was watching his face light up when Sarah showed him a photo that she’d taken of him. I can’t explain the amount of warmth that his reaction brought to my heart!
That day, we gifted and chatted to five homeless men who all shared a part of their story with us. It surprised me how easy it was to talk to them and how open they were about their circumstances. I was prepared to fight back emotion when listening to their countless hardships, but there was actually no need!
Derrick, a homeless man who makes a small living through selling hand-potted plants, was overflowing with positivity and I couldn’t help but smile throughout our conversation with him. You know when your cheeks get sore from so much smiling? That happened throughout that first distribution.
A large portion of my internship includes qualitative research. Using a grassroots approach, I hope to better understand the challenges that different members of the homeless community face, as experienced by those actually living on the street. I want to give voice to a group of people that are too easily dismissed and this requires me to spend a lot of time talking to homeless men and women, mostly within the CBD.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t initially intimidated but soon found myself feeling comfortable during the interviews, which end up being more of a conversation than a box-ticking list of questions. After each of these conversations, I left feeling enriched. Although still in the early stages, the people I’ve chatted to have emphasised how the general public are quick to judge and dismiss before understanding or simply listening to a homeless person’s story. Many of us underestimate how vital a decent conversation is to our day. Its something we take for granted.
I hope that this post will encourage you to step out of your comfort zone and have a chat with with one of your homeless neighbours. I have no doubt that you’ll leave feeling enriched.
If you wish to volunteer your time towards helping the homeless, you can do so in various ways:
- You can join Street Sleeper for a distribution day. Sign up to our volunteer database here so we can keep you updated.
- Spend an hour serving lunch at the Service Dining Rooms.
- Simply chat to someone in passing. I can guarantee that you’ll leave feeling fulfilled!