A news item caught my eye: "The [homeless] shelter in Langley [Canada] reopened after a brief shutdown due to staff shortages."
The reason this occurs is due to two effects:
- More shelters were funded this last year by the provincial government's BC Housing department, but there aren't necessarily more volunteers available to work at them, hence the shortage. Volunteers are literally that: we do not get paid for our 4.5-hour evening and 8-hour overnight shifts.
- Volunteers become burned out, and so are reluctant to put in more hours to cover gaps in shifts.
The shelter at which I volunteer was open non-stop early November to early January. That's a long stretch with no breaks. The work is not physically demanding, but puts a toll on our mental health from the risk of violence, dealing with drug overdoses, receiving verbal abuse, and knowing how best to handle anti-social behavior.
Last Saturday night was particularly bad. One "client" (as they are called) insisted sleeping outdoors, on the concrete, in the cold, a few feet from the door to our shelter, with his pants half-down, exposing himself to passers-by. (We kept urging him to come into the warm, and covering him with a blanket.) Another demanded I fall to my knees and apologize for having called him a pedophile. A third spent several hours outside our shelter staring at small blank pieces of paper that he kept going over and over. A friend working at a nearby shelter was slugged after giving the client mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. And more.
Nevertheless, we do the work because the need is there, even though we know what we do is a band-aid solution. We shouldn't be needing to house the homeless when it is cold out; we should be figuring out how to get them recovered from the drugs that are destroying their lives.
We're like search-and-rescue volunteers, but we don't get the glamorous media coverage.