Two new volunteers, UF students who want to start outreach to the homeless community through their church, joined us on Tuesday's driveout, to meet the community and find out more about their needs. They asked folks what they like about the Home Van. The most frequent response was, "They take our word for things." If someone tells us they need sandwiches or blankets, or socks, for people back at their camp, we believe them. We decided from the beginning to operate on the basis of trust. We would rather be snookered by someone occasionally than treat everyone with suspicion. People used to make up stories, in the beginning, but found out it wasn't necessary. You can have an extra sandwich just because you're extra hungry.
Many agencies would be happy to trust people more, but the vast amounts of paperwork/documentation required by granting agencies, particularly the state and federal governments, doesn't allow them that privilege. We get that privilege from you, our extended family of donators and supporters. When someone is taking advantage of us in a substantial way (like selling a tent we gave them to buy drugs), other homeless people quietly inform us. When people are treated with trust, they become self-policing. People who have had a good week at the Day Labor, sometimes donate to us - amounts ranging from $1 - to $10.
What works is treating people like relatives. Some you can loan money to and you'll get it back. Some you loan money to and kiss it goodbye. Some arrive early to help with Thanksgiving dinner, and some you hope won't get drunk and pass out into the mashed potatoes. Most of them you love and some you put up with. The homeless community is just like that.