How to Train Homeless Shelter Volunteers

How to Train Homeless Shelter Volunteers

There are many reasons to volunteer at a homeless shelter. It’s a wonderful opportunity to:

  • Help people dealing with houselessness live more comfortably and safely.
  • Provide people with food and a warm place to sleep.
  • Gain a greater sense of empathy, compassion, and gratitude.
  • Foster a powerful connection with other human beings.
  • Develop new skills and experiences to boost your resume.

Volunteering at a homeless shelter is a rewarding, enriching, and eye-opening experience. Homeless shelters need dependable volunteers for things like making up beds and cooking meals. Recruiting a full team of volunteers is an essential first step, but you should also consider your training procedures once you’ve assembled this team.

Your volunteers will need extensive training to fulfill their roles independently and efficiently. So, where do you start? Learn how to train volunteers at a homeless shelter with these tips.

What Does a Homeless Shelter Volunteer Do?

Homeless shelter offerings vary. Some shelters may simply offer a place to sleep at night, while others provide clean clothing and full meals. Naturally, volunteer tasks differ depending on the shelter’s activities. However, here are some general responsibilities volunteers can expect:

  • Preparing rooms: Homeless shelter volunteers help keep rooms comfortable, clean, and livable. Their duties might involve cleaning floors, restocking toiletries, and washing and changing bedding.
  • Serving food: Because many homeless shelters offer meal services, extra help is usually needed in the kitchen. Volunteers in homeless shelter kitchens often prepare ingredients, cook meals, and serve them. They may also help clear tables, wash dishes, and clean the kitchen.
  • Packaging and delivering meals: Some homeless shelter volunteers prepare and bring meals directly to people. They often help with packaging, transporting, and handing out food.
  • Interacting socially: Homeless shelter volunteers often serve as a source of community, helping people feel heard and valued. They might play cards with shelter occupants, strike up a friendly conversation, or lend an ear to those who want to speak about a difficult situation.

To succeed in the above duties, homeless shelter volunteers should receive in-depth training and preparation. That’s where the following tips come in.

6 Tips for Training Your Homeless Shelter Volunteers

You’ve scoured the resumes of your homeless shelter volunteers and finalized your team. Once you’ve recruited and rounded up your crew of volunteers, the next step involves crafting a comprehensive, engaging training program.

Training gives your volunteers the information, insights, and skills needed to perform their roles successfully. The steps below are a fantastic starting point for building your volunteer training program.

Training gives your volunteers the information, insights, and skills needed to perform their roles successfully

1. Hold Orientations

Conduct orientation sessions for new homeless shelter volunteers. These sessions offer an excellent opportunity for volunteers to become acquainted with the organization, learn about their potential responsibilities, and get to know fellow volunteers and staff members. During this orientation, volunteers should:

  • Learn about all volunteer roles and the activities they entail.
  • Receive a tour of the shelter and learn where everything is.
  • Meet and get acquainted with other volunteers and employees.
  • Learn about the shelter’s policies, rules, and procedures.
  • Understand the shelter’s overarching goals, values, and mission.

2. Provide Individualized Training Sessions

In addition to group orientations, consider dividing your team of volunteers into smaller groups based on their primary activities. For instance, you might have a group for kitchen work, a group for room volunteers, and a group for meal packaging and delivery.

Unlike full-group orientations, intimate training sessions give volunteers specialized instructions unique to their jobs and responsibilities. That way, they can better understand their basic duties and feel more confident going into their roles.

3. Conduct Safety Training

Safety is a critical component of homeless shelter volunteer training. Working in these environments can expose volunteers to numerous risks, such as verbal and physical violence, contagious diseases, emotional stress, and burnout. Ensure your volunteers understand basic safety protocols, including:

  • Reporting incidents and asking for help when needed.
  • Taking regular breaks.
  • Setting boundaries.

Volunteers should feel safe and cared for in their work environment. Providing your team with safety training and resources shows that you value their security, health, and well-being.

4. Seek Engagement Strategies

It’s no secret that long training programs can be tedious and overwhelming for new volunteers. Rather than talking at your volunteers, try finding ways to immerse them in these training sessions. This can make training programs more enjoyable for your homeless shelter volunteers.

Aside from verbal orientations and training sessions, be sure to incorporate more interactive training opportunities. Hands-on training is one of the best engagement tactics for homeless shelter volunteers. It also gives them a better understanding of how things work and where everything is.

Before they actually begin volunteering, conduct hands-on trial runs for each group to ensure everyone is prepared. Take your volunteers to the kitchen and show them how to chop and prepare ingredients. Show them where the linens and washing machines are so they can learn how to make up the beds. Teach them the correct protocols for packaging and loading boxes. Hands-on training isn’t just more engaging — it’s also necessary for the learning process.

5. Prepare Volunteers for Different Scenarios

Building off of the engagement strategies in the previous tip, try preparing your volunteers for scenarios they could encounter. Working at a homeless shelter can be unpredictable. Volunteers never know when they might face hostility, rejection, or erratic behavior.

That’s why it’s important to prepare them for the unknown. During training sessions, expose your volunteers to different environments, like shelters, encampments, and parks. This is especially key for volunteers who will travel to various locations to deliver meals and other essentials.

Teach volunteers how to approach individuals without housing in a friendly, respectful manner. They should also understand the best practices for handling conflicts and emergencies, as well as how to keep calm in these situations. Exposing volunteers to real-world scenarios before they start volunteering can also help them cultivate a sense of empathy and understanding, which is fundamental in this line of work.

6. Encourage Teamwork and Collaboration

Volunteering is a joint effort. Homeless shelters require many moving parts, activities, and hardworking individuals for smooth operations. During training sessions, teach your volunteers about the importance of coordination and teamwork despite everyone handling different roles and responsibilities.

Volunteers should work effectively with staff members and fellow volunteers. They should be willing to share feedback, resources, and other valuable information with each other. Volunteers can also learn about networking and forging relationships with stakeholders like media outlets and local businesses. Doing so can elevate community awareness and support for homelessness.

Prepare and Manage Your Volunteers With Volgistics

If you’re looking for a seamless way to oversee your homeless shelter volunteers, Volgistics can deliver the solution you need. You can use this software to:

  • Store volunteer data.
  • Create, manage, and track volunteer schedules.
  • Record volunteer service hours.
  • Communicate with volunteers.
  • Customize and print reports.

To find out if Volgistics is right for you, sign up for a live demo or free 30-day trial today! You can also fill out a contact form for questions about the software, features, or pricing.

Prepare and manage your volunteers with Volgistics. Sign up for a live demo.