Volunteering in the sector

Volunteering can be hugely rewarding for the volunteer and make a real difference to people who are homeless.Whoever you are there will be a role that makes use of your particular skills while also helping you gain new ones. Here are some questions to think about and some links to help you find the right opportunity for you.

What do I have to offer?

  • What skills you could bring to a volunteer role? You don’t have to have any direct experience of working with homeless people. You might be a good listener, know about housing law, or have experienced homelessness or other personal challenges yourself and feel you have something extra to offer.
  • Working directly with homeless people isn’t the only way you could contribute. Do you have skills you could bring to fundraising, campaigning, research, service improvement, or becoming a trustee? 
  • How much time can you commit? Even if it's just one morning a month, every little helps and there will probably be opportunities to suit you. Some will require more time, so you will need to check this before you sign up.

What do I want to gain?

  • Are you looking to give something back or hoping your role will lead to a career in the homeless sector? Find out more about working in the homelessness sector.
  • Could you build your skills? Find out whether the organisations you approach provide training, what supervision or mentoring arrangements are in place for volunteers, and whether the organisation provides any traineeships or other routes to develop your career.
  • What informal learning opportunities the placement will provide? A placement might appeal because of its clear learning structure and support offered to volunteers, or because it offers an opportunity to learn about substance misuse and mental health, as well as housing issues.

What do I want to do?

  • A volunteer role involving direct contact with homeless people could include anything from befriending, advice, listening, practical tasks like cooking a meal, running groups and activities, shadowing appointments, to helping service users make calls or complete forms, and much more.
  • Which activities will you be able to undertake? This will depend on the type of service you choose to volunteer at, so it may be worth exploring some of the different types of services that support homeless people. Below are a few examples.

WHAT KIND OF OPPORTUNITIES ARE THERE?

  • Hostels are the first step off the street for many homeless people so volunteering in one could offer a good opportunity to build relationships with residents and develop skills for employment.
  • Street outreach teams could give you an insight into why people sleep rough and how they can be helped towards a home.
  • Day centres are often under-resourced and rely on volunteers to help with serving meals and other practical tasks, as well as getting to know service users and offering activities.
  • If you have a particular interest or skill to offer (such as legal training) you could consider volunteering for an advice service or for a specialist project. Some projects focus on a particular client group such as young people, prisoners, homeless foreign nationals, or people with mental health problems; others offer particular activities for homeless and ex-homeless people such as gardening projects, work training, art or theatre projects, although some day centres and hostels will also provide these kind of volunteer opportunities.

Where should I start?

  • Approach organisations directly to see whether they take on volunteers, most will be happy for the support. Homeless UK lists homelessness organisations and allows you to see them listed by specialist subjects such as alcohol, care-leavers or day centres.
  • Look for advertised volunteer positions on websites such as do-it.org 
  • Contact your local Council they will know about all the local organisations and what opportunities might be available. 
  • Check out advertised vacancies in the Guardian ‘society’ section on Wednesdays, local newspapers, and websites including charity jobs,  jobs go public,  jobs in charities and Inside Housing.

Good luck and enjoy volunteering!