How Volunteering with the Homeless Changed My Life


I didn’t expect my life to change as a result of my research for articles about homelessness. But that’s exactly what happened. In the course of my research, I contacted several lead agencies of Continuums of Care (CoCs) in California to learn about their responsibilities.

As you may know, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requires each Continuum of Care (CoC), a group of service providers with a lead agency, to conduct a biennial Count during the last ten days of January, of homeless people living within its geographical area. Some CoCs, including the one in San Diego, California, conduct their Counts annually even though they are not required by HUD to do so.

When I called and interviewed representatives of Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), the lead agency for the Los Angeles CoC, I learned that the 2013 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count would take place, January 29 – 31, 2013. I also found out that LAHSA conducts a demographic survey of unsheltered homeless people.

This demographic survey is designed to elicit specific information about homeless peoples’ needs so that helpful services can be identified and provided.

I found a question in one of LAHSA’s prior demographic surveys very interesting: Where were you housed when you became homeless?

What a wonderful question! It contains no bias. So simple, so clear, so straight forward.

As has been shown by answers to this question, the majority of people stayed in Los Angeles where they were housed when they became homeless.

This question alone made me curious about the kind of people that would compose and include this question within their survey. How fair they must be. In my interviews with LAHSA representatives, I found them to be knowledgeable, bright and compassionate people.

And then one day, I went to their website, and found a job opportunity, volunteer coordinator for the 2013 Greater Los Angeles Count. I was so curious about how much I could learn from these amazing people about the Count that I applied for the job.

About a week or so after submitting my online application, I was quite surprised to receive a call from LAHSA inviting me to Los Angeles for a job interview. I was even more surprised to be interviewed by four people, two of whom I had previously spoken with in connection with my research on homelessness!

When I was offered the job, I quickly accepted. I was delighted with the prospect of learning more about the Count from people sincerely dedicated to ending homelessness.

Having been on the job for several months, I am convinced that I made the right move to LAHSA. Now when I see homeless people, I know we at LAHSA are committed to doing our best to help them. And I feel good about that.

As I walk toward my office every morning, one of the homeless people I see is an older gentleman who I shall call, “Sam,” who lives in a box on the sidewalk. As time has gone by, I’ve become more and more intrigued by this gentle soul.

Each day when I see him I say, “Good morning, Sam. How are you doing?”

“Fine. How are you doing?” he responds with a smile.

A quick but heartfelt exchange between two friends who barely know one another.

When approached about getting into housing, Sam responds that he prefers to be homeless and not receive services. Really? I believe that his responses are evidence of irrational thinking.

So, for right now, all I can do for my friend is to smile, be kind and do my job.

Through my job as one of three volunteer coordinators, I’m helping to recruit some of the 5,000 volunteers we need to conduct the Count. The results of the Count will help determine who and where homeless people are as well as help in making funding decisions so that homeless people get the housing and services they need.

Of course, I hope volunteers will sign up for the Count at

The Count will help homeless people living in Los Angeles, including Sam. When he receives the services he needs to help him improve his mental health, I believe that Sam will be more open to accepting an offer of assistance with housing.

What do I get from my job? That’s an easy question to answer.

From my job, I get to work with great people, contribute to ending homelessness and expand my compassion for homeless people, like Sam.

I look forward to your comments.

Christine Schanes

The post How Volunteering with the Homeless Changed My Life appeared first on Intent Blog.