One of the questions that volunteers rarely ask, but often recall after serving a few times at Project WARM is the feeling of “What am I supposed to talk about when I get down there?”. It is such a great question we thought we would share some suggestions to help get the conversation started.
Each one of these guys has a life story, just like you. I’ve met an engineer, a number of veterans with great stories of bravery, an auto mechanic, a computer technician, a father of some pretty interesting kids and a whole host of great men.
Each of them is a creation of God that He loves.
Unfortunately many times on the streets these men are treated like untouchables. Talking to them as a human and treating them as someone who is just as good as you is the start to a great conversation.
Here is how I generally start with a guest I don’t know. I sit beside them, or crouch down to look them STRAIGHT in the eyes. Try not to look down at them on their cots – sit down and spend some time.
Me: “Hi, my name is Steve” (stretch your hand out to shake theirs – they enjoy that)
Guest: “Hi, I’m Edward” (100% of the time I’ve gotten their name – it’s a good ice breaker)
Me: “Thanks for coming in tonight, have you been here before or do you have any questions?” (They are always appreciative and rarely have questions – sometimes they ask about dinner, or if they can have some water or where the bathroom is – all very easy questions. If they ask a “hard” question you can always ask one of the Project WARM employees).
Me: “Did you grow up around the South Bend region”? (This is a good question to learn a little about their history and is a good conversation starter – it doesn’t focus on their problems and gets them to think about potentially better times in their lives).
Me: “I volunteer here every now and again so we’ll probably get to know one another – tell me something interesting about your life – kids, pets, hobbies, military service – you name it. Something I can remember you by when I’m praying for you”. (This is a great lead in question to LONG conversations – make sure it’s a two way conversation – tell them something interesting about you. By the time you get to this point in the conversation you are good to go)
Me: “Can I pray with you for anything now?” (This is a good way to close the conversation and also a great way to start bringing God into the conversation. You would be surprised how many guests let you pray for them. It doesn’t have to be a fancy prayer or a long prayer – just think of God sitting right beside you and you having a conversation with the guest and God. If something comes up during prayer that you are concerned about you can reach out to one of the Project WARM employees to help as well).
Questions I try to refrain from asking and why:
“So how did you end up homeless?” – Inevitably this will come up in your conversation but I try not to lead with it. They have been asked this A LOT by now.
“Have you been drinking / taking drugs?” – This is irrelevant usually unless there is a problem that you need to address.
“Do you have family locally?” – If they do then the only reason they would be at Project WARM was due to a fall out with the family. If they don’t this could stir up emotions or depression because they don’t have family close.
“How long have you been homeless?” – Another question to avoid, but it will come up. Try not to remind them of the problems they are facing by recalling the past and how long they have struggled.
“Are you married?” – Again if they were married they probably don’t have a positive reason why they are at Project WARM. Try to focus on the positive.