Calgary homeless shelters appreciate all their volunteers

The Calgary Drop-In & Rehab Centre and The Mustard Seed are two Calgary homeless shelters that rely on people taking a few hours out of their busy lives to help someone else.

In fact, they rely on so many people who play an intricate role in the operation of both shelters.

The Calgary Drop-In & Rehab Centre sees 30,000 volunteers come through their building. With a new tracking system just in place, The Mustard Seed doesn’t have an actual count on how many volunteers there are, but they have 11,000 volunteer opportunities.

“We couldn’t do a fraction of the work we do here without our volunteers, they are absolutely the life-blood of the organization,” said Alyssa Burnham, communications specialist at The Mustard Seed.

The volunteers are vital to being able to take care of the needs of clients; there isn’t enough resources or staff to do it without them, Burnham said.

Jordan Hamilton, manager of external relations at The Calgary Drop-In & Rehab Centre said, “The Drop-In Centre is a magical place, and the reason it is a magical place is because of the volunteers.”

Being a volunteer is about showing they care. Hamilton said volunteers aren’t expecting a paycheck — they are donating their time because they want to help.

“We have some volunteers that volunteer every single day, seven days a week,” Hamilton said. “It is inspiring just how hard some volunteers work here in the building.”

When all the volunteer hours are added up at centre they equal that of 84 full-time staff, Hamilton said.

“Our clients appreciate that, by seeing all these people care it is easier for our clients to care a little bit more about themselves, so they can take the giant step to learn to cope with their addiction, or they can regularly take medication,” Hamilton said.

Burnham agrees it is important for their clients to see that people really do care enough to help them without being paid at the end of the day.

“They [volunteers] also bring certain skills, abilities and personalities that adds to the vibrancy of The Mustard Seed and gives something special to our guests,” Burnham said.

These skills can be anything from teaching classes like photography, to serving meals, helping with resume building and other knowledge.

Herb Buist has been volunteering at The Mustard Seed for the past 10 years in the computer lab helping guests when they need it.
Photo by: Jessica Cameron
Herb Buist has been volunteering at the computer lab at The Mustard Seed once a week for the past 10 years.

“I get a lot of satisfaction, [from volunteering] I get to know myself better, and I get to know the guests better,” Buist said.

On top of helping in the computer lab every Friday morning, Buist has also ran photography classes, fixed donated computers, created video tutorials on attaching files, and how to search for jobs and has taught computer classes.

“Once I’ve been doing it for a few years, I saw the need or the opportunity, so I said that I am going to stick with this,” Buist said.

Buist enjoys helping out wherever he is needed, and plans on continuing to volunteer at The Mustard Seed for another 10 years.

“There is incredible need in our community — it’s a physical need, an emotional need and a spiritual need and we do our best to meet those needs,” Burnham said.

Hamilton said The Calgary Drop-In & Rehab Centre, which is the largest homeless shelter in North America, has a comprehensive range of services, including yoga, woodworking, music and everything in between.

The services are offered to clients in a different way, Hamilton explained. “Rather than labeling people when they walk in the doorway we actually ask people, ‘what are your hopes, dreams, strengths and talents?’”

Without the volunteers, organizations like these two wouldn’t be able to provide the support and services that they currently have.

“It takes a community of support to move somebody out of homelessness, by showing you care you are helping people move out of homelessness one person at a time,” Hamilton said.

jcameron@cjournal.ca