The thermometer read just above freezing. Chilling rain and snow fell diagonally, buffeted by heavy winds. On days like these, I always try to spend as little time as possible in the unforgiving out-of-doors. Think for a moment, however, about that slice of Concord’s population that has access to little respite from stormy, frigid weather – our city’s homeless. Many of those who stay outside are just like anyone else: they’d prefer not to get chilled to the bone, but there’s a huge difference between bundling up by the fire and huddling in a Hyundai or a wind-battered tent.
With all that in mind, I headed to the Concord Homeless Resource Center to do a volunteer shift. It was Wednesday, haircut day down at the CHRC. The usual crowd of a half-dozen or so that normally stops by to sip a cup of coffee, to check their email or pick up letters (many CHRC regulars use the center as their mailing address) more than tripled.
As a volunteer, my duties were basically to check each visitor in as they arrived and then point them in the right direction to get the help they need. Since it was my first time, a lot of the regulars knew way more than I did about the Resource Center routines; still, I was able to lend a helping hand for a few people.
First time at the CHRC? Fill out this one-page form. Hoping for a haircut? Sign up here, first-come, first-serve. Need a winter coat or a backpack? Check out the supply of donations in the closet/supply room/office (when you don’t have much space to work with, everything is multipurpose).
There were lots of nice folks at the CHRC. Cute little kids reluctantly got their hair cut for school. Middle-aged gents spruced up for potential job interviews.
One gentleman, who had just gotten out from a 12-year prison stint, needed a hand finding a place to live. When handed a cell phone to start making calls, he was bewildered, not even knowing where to start. He’d been in prison for the entire wireless era! With a little guidance, he picked it up right away.
The most important thing you can do while you’re volunteering is just make sure everyone feels comfortable. Everyone I met that day was friendly and engaging; after a few minutes of chatting, there were fast friends all around. Turns out, there are some Insider fans in Concord’s homeless community!
By the time my shift was over, I was having such a good time that I ended up staying for an extra half hour. Before I left, I made sure to sign up for another shift the next week – on haircut day, of course.
CHRC coordinator Marcia Sprague told me that she is seeking volunteers to work similar shifts every day of the week. Anybody is welcome to help out, but she said among other things, the center needs volunteers who are fairly well-versed in computer skills. Many visitors to the CHRC hope to connect with friends and family that are far, far away, and there’s no easier way than through Facebook and email. But many of them don’t have regular access to computer, so it doesn’t come as naturally as it would for regular computer users. If you’ve got the skills and patience to walk people through signing up for email and Facebook, you should consider picking up a shift at the CHRC. However, any and all volunteers would be greatly appreciated.