As she was preparing for her first volunteer session at Bathurst-Lake Shore shelter, Sali was nervous. Although she had nearly completed a Masters in Counselling degree with Yorkville University, and had experience as a crisis counselor, a health coach, and had answered phones on a crisis line, Sali still worried about how Homes First residents “… would perceive someone who doesn’t really understand their struggle, coming in to try to help them.”
Happily, she found that despite her different circumstances, there was lots of empathy to go around.
“I quickly learned that, at the end of the day we’re all people, and a human struggle is a human struggle,” she recalls. “Of course, my struggle looks very different than a resident’s struggle; but there’s still a lot of room for understanding…”
Working closely with front-line shelter staff, Sali was able to create an informal counselling program designed to support residents through their struggles, and case managers with their workload. Sessions typically last thirty minutes, with Sali meeting residents in each of the shelter’s programs.
While the service centres on providing clients with emotional and moral support, Sali is quick to affirm that the benefits of the program are a two-way street.
“I think we both benefit. It gives me an opportunity to practice relationship-building and doing informal counselling. So on my end, I’ve grown a lot through this experience and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
Through the program, Sali was able to make meaningful connections with many residents, and often hears updates on their lives from their friends still in the shelter.
“They miss having the support and are looking to find that kind of support outside of the shelter. So that was really heartwarming for me to hear as well.”