Lessons from a Homeless Shelter

I just finished my third year working at the Winter Housing Overflow, which is a shelter than runs from November through March. Working with the homeless population has taught me a lot, so I thought I would share some lessons I’ve learned:

There is a definite connection between drugs and homelessness. I wish that teenagers could see the ramifications of choices that they are making right now. After three years of interviewing hundreds of people, I can say that only a handful did not have a drug and alcohol issues in their past. Obviously not everyone who does drugs ends up homeless, but I guarantee that all of my clients with drug histories wish that they had not gone down that path.

Motivated people get farther in life. At this point, I can probably tell you during the first interview who is going to use the shelter to better their situation and give them a foundation to housing. It is the people who are out there pounding the pavement, filling out applications, willing to take any job to get started, and who are respectful, humble, and grateful to those people who are trying to assist them. They may have a rough season, but they will get back on their feet. They are using our system appropriately and not abusing the resources provided to them.

Full time social workers deserve an award. It’s a HARD job. It’s emotional, frustrating, sometimes depressing, and overwhelming to meet the needs of people with enormous challenges in front of them. It is very difficult to stay focused amidst the devastation that is just a reality in this field. Hats off to all of you who serve in that capacity!

Being in a homeless shelter doesn’t just happen to people. It’s almost never about bad luck, it’s about choices. The simple fact is that if you make good, godly choices consistently in your life, the chances of you ending up with so few options in your life is extremely improbable. Regardless of intelligence, education, and position, obedience to God’s principles from youth until the end does impact your life in drastic ways.

Volunteering makes a difference. Our shelter is very dependent on people giving up their time to get towels, play with kids, make lunches, and get the beds set up. I encourage you to find a place to serve…in a hospital, in a church, in a shelter. It doesn’t matter where, but it does matter.

There’s a lot more that I’ve gleaned in three years, but it’s hard to sum it all up. Moral of the story: Don’t do drugs, stay in school, don’t burn bridges to people in your life, do the responsible thing everytime, don’t commit felonies, work hard, and if you do end up in a shelter after all that…believe in your ability to get your life back. We still live in America and we’re blessed beyond measure!

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