Language and communication is an important aspect of the 300 Blankets Outreach Program and is something that we put a lot of focus into. Our Outreach Program was born not only out of the need for items like food and blankets, but also out of the fundamental human need for companionship and someone to talk to. By nature, we, as humans, are a social animal and we all yearn for interaction with other people, but despite living in one of the most highly populated cities in Australia, not all of us have people willing to listen.
Some of our new volunteers admit that they are not sure how to communicate with people who are sleeping rough. It is not uncommon to hear that some people may feel more comfortable avoiding eye contact or, in extreme cases, cross the street rather than engage with someone doing it tough. But, despite this, these people still wanted to learn more about homelessness and make a difference, so they signed up to volunteer with us.
I have found that the best approach when talking to our friends on the street is to be respectful, patient, supportive and to continually try to find ways to connect with the other person. You might find it helpful to use positive language and emphasize that they are valued by the community, whilst giving them time to think and not necessarily rushing a discussion. On the other hand, I have sometimes simply sat together with a friend sleeping rough, saying nothing and just enjoying each other’s company. Actions can speak volumes.
During seasonal outreaches, I sometimes come prepared with jokes about the Easter bunny or Santa Claus, but I always come prepared to make fun of my volunteers and myself. In some ways, laughter really is the best medicine.
Another useful tip when speaking with people is to try and go down to their eye level to show that you are friends and equals rather than standing over them and perhaps making them feel uncomfortable. As most of the people we engage with are sitting on the ground, we usually end up sitting down next to them when having a conversation.
How we communicate with people is important especially when we spend our time with some of the most vulnerable people in our community. It makes a big impact when we can bring happiness and positivity to people’s lives. Things like Peter’s bear hugs, Susan’s caring voice, Ian’s handshakes and Stella’s smile make all the difference and stay with our friends long after our volunteers have walked on.
Click here if you would like to try a night out on our Outreach Program. We are always looking for passionate people, wanting to make a difference for people experiencing homelessness in Melbourne.