Homeless burnout

Last night, I had the pleasure of witnessing a new enterprise to help the homeless in Southend, helping to fill another needed gap. There is a new building development to build social housing nearby the Civic Centre, where the local college used to be, and it is where the activity takes place. The firm developing the site, Hollybrook, have generously agreed to make available part of the site, including free use of portacabins and services and, importantly, by providing security staff, to One Love, a newly started up “soup kitchen”, which for the past few weeks have been operating at Clarence Road car park on Monday evenings, and this is for them an additional activity. The plan is to operate every Thursday 5.30 – 8.30, serving meals at 7. Besides providing meals and drinks etc. for the genuine homeless, it hopes to extend to showers, clothes washing facilities and other services (last night a chiropodist was on hand and the intention is there will be other professionals, including medics).

That in itself is a newsworthy item, but seeing what was going on, which was heartwarming to say the least, given the amount of good will being extended by many, the serious commitment of a large business and the appreciation by the homeless folk who were benefiting, a number I know, got me thinking. One thought was why didn’t I come up with the idea? But then it is back to my old adage that no-one has the monopoly on helping the homeless and the more who do the better. The trick ideally is to recognize those who do help are a disparate bunch, and we may not always agree or get on, but if they are doing something worthwhile to help the homeless they need to be honoured and encouraged. The other thought was around the subject of burnout (one definition is:  “exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration”). While there was no evidence of this last night, the danger is always present, especially if in it for the long haul as I know is the intention. Being involved in another soup kitchen as I have for these past 3 years or so, I know this is a reality and have seen its effects, and the triggers that cause burn out. Sometimes people start off with lots of enthusiasm and it then wanes so they move on even though the needs remain. Other times though, it does take its toll on one’s personal life especially when over committing, feeling let down or put upon unduly.

Here is my two penneth of wisdom for combating burnout:

  1. Helping the homeless is a noble activity and is part of what being human is all about – doing good to others especially those less fortunate than ourselves.
  2. We cannot help everyone and need to recognize our limitations.
  3. Focus on the little you can do and do it. Don’t do what the guy in the image above is doing.
  4. Recognise your gifts, needs and opportunities and act accordingly.
  5. Don’t neglect your family, health etc.
  6. Homeless folk are human like everyone else and deserve treating with respect and dignity.
  7. Consider volunteering for One Love and any number of voluntary organizations that help others.
  8. Vulnerable people tend to be great manipulators and allowances need to be made.
  9. If you say you are going to do something, do it and stick with it – unreliable helpers are a pain.
  10. When you help you will be criticized. Take on board what is constructive and ignore what isn’t.
  11. In a similar vein, don’t criticize or bear animosity toward others; focus on what you need to do.
  12. As the good book reminds us: the poor will always be with us.
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