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I am often asked, “how do you talk with someone who is homeless?” I have come to believe the question behind this question is “how do I talk to someone who is a stranger?”
We are taught early on not to talk to strangers. And everyone finds comfort in talking with friends who they have a lot in common. As an introvert, I would prefer to go really deep with fewer friends. But when I am volunteering, I have often been told meaningful relationships can help people get to a place where they are ready to get back on their feet.
When you volunteer at the Mission there are many opportunities to just talk and hang out with the guests (people in our long-term men and women's recovery programs). For some people this can be awkward, intimidating, or even frightening.
I remember the first time I came to the Mission to volunteer. I was 23 and I went with a group of friends to serve lunch at the Men’s Shelter. We finished the tasks quickly and were invited to sit and chat with a group of men. I had no clue what I was doing there. I really wasn’t sure what I had to offer and I didn’t feel like I was helping.
Years later, I had the chance to be a supervisor at one of our shelters and the tables were turned. I was the one regularly asking volunteers to go and talk with guests, and just hang out. What I learned is that through conversation some guests really have the chance to have someone to listen, offer respect, and encourage them during a difficult season of their life.
We all know there is no such thing as a ‘one size fits all’ approach to engaging with people, but I wanted to share some conversational prompts in a printable placemat that can guide you into making simple conversations meaningful.
Download our free placemat conversation tool to start having more meaningful conversations the next time you volunteer.
Print as many as you like! Four versions with different conversation starters are available for you, and for everyone in your volunteer team.