The annual Metro Vancouver Homeless Count on March 11 and 12 had hundreds of volunteers participating in the effort. Veteran homeless advocate Judy Graves offered her expertise, helping train volunteers to approach the people they are interviewing in a safe and compassionate manner.
The Metro Vancouver Homeless Count is an annual project with the goal of finding out how many people in the region are without suitable housing. To gather the necessary data, hundreds of volunteers participate in the two-day effort, searching for homeless individuals in the community and asking them questions about factors such as their current living situation, employment status, and health.
But to be done safely and effectively, volunteers must be trained in the best way to approach and talk with the individuals they will be interviewing. A large group of volunteers gathered at the Surrey Urban Mission, to learn the necessary fundamentals.
Long-time homeless advocate for the City of Vancouver, Judy Graves, teaches the volunteers skills she has developed through decades of interacting with people living on the street.
“I can tell you a good thing about doing it my way,” she says. “It’s way safe.”
Through role-playing and examples, Graves emphasizes the value of treating the homeless with dignity. Her insights provide invaluable advice for respectful, compassionate interactions with people who are living on the street.
She pulls a volunteer from the audience and demonstrates how to end an interview.
“I take her hand and put the candy in and fold it closed.”
Graves looks at the volunteer and smiles widely.
“And I say thank you, that was really helpful.”
July Dewett is a first time volunteer.
“Trying to get them (homeless people) to build that comfort level with you and get them to talk to you. I think that will be one of the biggest challenges,” says Dewett.
New volunteers like Jully are partnered with veteran participants in the count. She will work with Tim Baillie, a retired Surrey firefighter.
“I quite enjoy the fact I can go out in the community and help bring some awareness to homelessness,” says Baillie.
For volunteers such as Jully, the experience is rewarding on a personal level and also offers skills and experience she hopes to use in her professional development.
Julie explains, “I’m majoring in criminology and minoring in psychology. So, a lot we learned in the training I would have never thought of, such as how to approach them, so I think being able do that and building that comfort and having that icebreaker is going to be really good. I don’t think I would have been able to gain that experience otherwise.”