Volunteering to Serve Homeless People

There is so much to do in this community to assist homeless people move to stability. Throughout the 1980s, faith communities led the effort to assist homeless people. All the shelters were administered by religious organizations. All the food was distributed by local churches and faith based organizations, and all advocacy was led by these same organizations. Mainstream non-profit organizations began to take over these functions in the 1990s when government/United Way started funding programs and requiring a great deal of paperwork. There are so many opportunities in the community and the Coalition is working to link churches, mosques, and synagogues to get back to leading the effort to end homelessness. Faith based organizations working together are so powerful and can move mountains. In Cleveland, after the Katrina disaster over 140 congregations came together to prevent the hundreds of households that relocated to Cleveland from remaining homeless for more than a couple of weeks.  In Columbus, a group of churches came together under the umbrella group called BREAD that has created a local fund to develop housing. Here are some recommendations for volunteer opportunities in Cuyahoga County.

Social Justice Activities

  • Volunteer with Social Justice Organizations. Cleveland has a rich group of organizations working on health care, economic issues, or housing. There is a list of contact information on the NEOCH website at www.neoch.org under Resources.
  • Volunteer with the Coalition for the Homeless. There are many opportunities at the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless to volunteer to solve problems in the community. These include helping with voter registration, housing advocacy, monthly advocacy meetings, and health care advocacy. There is a list of volunteer opportunities on the front of the Coalition website at www.neoch.org.
  • Development of Programs to Serve Homeless People. Only faith-based organizations have the resources and volunteers to solve problems in the community. There are so many issues that the major faith organizations could address that would improve the lives of homeless people. There is a summary of programs or services that need to be developed on the NEOCH website at www.neoch.org under Statistics and Strategies. A few possible areas of need are a 24 hour drop in center, a place for people not interested in shelter to pay for a night of housing, and a place where people can store important documents and other items. The Coalition would be interested in assisting any group in attempting to address these bigger problems in the community.
  • Organizing Homeless People.  This is the most important aspect of the work of the Coalition to assure that homeless people can speak for themselves.  We also need help in developing leaders in the community.

Direct Service Assistance

  • Every Agency that Serves Homeless People Needs Help. All of the outreach teams work for larger agencies that serve homeless people. Volunteers of America, Mental Health Services/Community Women’s Shelter, Care Alliance/Health Care for the Homeless, and Lutheran Metro Ministry/2100 Lakeside. The bigger shelters need help with religious organizations adopting one or more meals or collecting and distributing hygiene items. They all have information available and can be reached through First Call for Help/211 or on the web at www.211cleveland.org 
  • There is a List of Other Direct Service Programs that serve homeless people and need help with volunteers on the NEOCH website at www.neoch.org.
  • NEOCH helped to coordinate groups to use a parking lot at East 18th and Payne Ave as the focal point for coordinated services.  The City and NEOCH officials do not recommend just going downtown and distributing food.  This is not a needed service and does not provide much benefit to those staying outside. 

Long Term Assistance/Ministry to a Vulnerable Population

  • Finding and Assisting with the Coordination of a 24 hour Warming Center. A critical issue that has been a dream of activists for 30 years is a 24 hour facility that could provide a warm place for homeless people to go to get some light food and use a bathroom. The outreach workers meet every month and would be interested in helping to move this issue forward. Call Jim Schlecht at Care Alliance 216/781-6228 who has coordinated a program called Metanoia for the last three winters.
  • Follow Up Help with Homeless People Currently in Housing. Besides offering assistance to an individual who is homeless, the Bridging the Gap program does reach out to those formerly homeless people now in housing. A group of volunteers could volunteer to keep in touch with the men, women and families placed into housing in order to prevent evictions. Again, contact NEOCH at 216-432-0540. 2100 Lakeside shelter has a similar program for the men getting into housing call. Call NEOCH at 216-432-0540.
  • 2100 Lakeside Shelter Has Space for Groups to Host Training or Education Classes: The shelter has reorganized so that there is more space to provide small group meetings or larger meetings at the shelter.  These spaces could be to provide religious education, sensitivity training, African American history, or job readiness skills at the shelter. Call NEOCH at 216-432-0540.
  • Cleveland Needs a Place for Storage: In the February 19, 2006 Cleveland Plain Dealer, a homeless man wrote a first person account of living in the shelters. One of his big issues identified by this author by many other homeless people is the need for a place to store important items and a change of clothing. There are so many abandoned buildings, but because of security issues there are no longer affordable places for people to pay for storage especially of critical documents like a birth certificate.
  • We Need A Place to Pay to Live: In 2004, the last of the “Flop Houses” closed in the City of Cleveland with the closing of the Jay Hotel. Every other week, the Coalition gets a call from a faith-based organization wanting to know how to open a shelter. Since there is no longer any public money left, this is not a realistic endeavor.  We recommend starting more of a pay-to-stay facility that could offer a secure place to live for a nightly or weekly fee.

Here are some ideas for an individual or group to work on to end homelessness (pdf flyer).

Here is a flyer on what a student can do to help homeless people.