Road to Home: Be a Community Ally
As the president of Road2Home—a Bellingham-based nonprofit launched in the fall of 2019 by residents who saw an urgent need for a program that would help homeless people navigate the complex system of social services in order to secure housing—Melissa Bird observes there’s not much separating community members who are battling the adverse effects of winter weather from beneath the inadequate shelter of tarps, tents and broken-down campers, and those who have somewhere warm and dry to lay their heads at night.
Bird is a nurse with past experience advocating for homeless people, and the other founding members of Road2Home are also professionals and volunteers who have already witnessed the positive impacts community support and transitional housing can have on someone’s “road to home.”
But they can’t do it alone. Road2Home’s Community Ally Program aims to offer one-on-one assistance as clients navigate various government agencies, complete applications for benefits, attend multiple appointments and deal with assorted issues that may arise. Allies will need to undergo a background check and training and spend up to six months helping their paired participant. Building relationships and connections to the community is key.
“A lot of people want to help but don’t know how to get started,” Bird says, which is why Road2Home developed a training program designed to help people feel more comfortable when they volunteer.
A “Community Volunteer Training: Helping Our Homeless Neighbors” taking place on Zoom on Sat., Jan. 23 is a free primer for those interested in volunteering for Road2Home’s Community Ally program or at any local organization serving people who have experienced trauma. (Funding for the training is provided by Whatcom Community Foundation.)
Attendees at the virtual training will learn more about trauma, Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), social justice when volunteering, common reasons for homelessness and more.
“The training is for everyone,” Bird confirms, noting that volunteers are always needed to advocate for the more than 200 estimated unsheltered people in Whatcom County—many of whom are struggling even more so than usual during the pandemic due to the continued closures of public spaces where they could at least warm up for a few hours.
The nonprofit is also partnering with the Low Income Housing Institute to build a transitional housing community in Bellingham that would provide single adults and couples with a small domicile on their pathway to stability, and residents will need volunteers willing to assist them in facing the challenges that have thus far prevented them from accessing housing—such as a lack of identification, medical records or a history of trauma. The village would focus on those ages 55-plus and those with chronic medical conditions.
Individual donations made to Road2Home through Sat., Jan. 16 will be matched up to $20,000 by an anonymous (and generous) donor, meaning you’ll be doubling your contribution.
But whether you’re offering funds or time to the program, Bird wants you to remember that just because someone doesn’t have shelter over their heads does not mean they don’t have something in common with you.
“Anybody I’ve ever met that’s experiencing homelessness is dealing with many of the same problems as people that are housed do,” she says, “but people who are housed don’t have to worry where they are going to sleep tonight, too.”
WHAT: Road2Home Volunteer Meeting
WHEN: 10am-12:30pm Sat., Jan. 23
COST: Free; register in advance