Getting to Know Our Guests, Erasing Stereotypes

January 26, 2011
Kasey

A.S.

My name is Alexandra, or Alex, for short.  Last year I decided to leave Austria and work abroad as a volunteer here at FOA.  Working with people who are homeless sounded interesting to me and so I moved to Chicago in August.  To be honest I didn’t have many expectations for this experience.  I didn’t think that I would build relationships with our guests, but after two weeks I changed my mind.

Before I came here I had some stereotypes about people who were homeless, such as, “it’s their own fault that they are homeless” or “most of them are too lazy to work” and so on.  I forgot that sometimes other facts like illness and disability, or even worse things can be the reason for homelessness.

Almost every day I see guests that are on the street, because of mental illness or physical illness.  A lot of them can’t afford medications or necessary treatments.  A couple of months ago a man told me that he had an accident at work.  Now he has lost his job and because of the accident has some disabilities. He waited over 3 months for the disability payment from his accident, which caused him to be homeless.  It’s hard to see that some people are homeless because of circumstances like this.

The best thing I can do to help the guests, besides my work, is to speak with them about their situation and to show them that I really try to understand their condition and that I have no stereotypes about them.  Sometimes guests are really happy when you just listen to them.  Building these relationships helps them feel supported and listened to.  After the first few months I think I can say that I learned that I can’t change everyone’s life, but I can help them improve it during my short time here.  When a guest sends you a smile back, then you know that you did the right thing.

This is my payment for my job here at FOA.  Since I’ve been here I’ve gained and will gain so many experiences for my future.  My eyes are being opened to so many new things.  Working here as a volunteer is not just a job.  You also learn a lot about life; how you can handle difficult situations, how you can avoid thinking in stereotypes, etc.  I’m happy that I chose FOA for my volunteering!

Alex is a volunteer from Austria, serving at the Marquard Center for 6 months.

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