No Freeze Hospitality Center
The Windham Region No Freeze Hospitality Center, Inc. is an agency dedicated to providing a safe and warm overnight space for individuals experiencing homelessness during winter months. In addition, No Freeze connects adults experiencing homelessness to local and regional services. Volunteers assist staff with sign-in protocols, distribution of showering supplies and bedding. Volunteers take a great part in socializing with guests, making them feel welcome, playing games, assisting guests on the computer and filling out forms. Volunteers are welcome to bring their personal interests and talents to engage with the guests. Volunteer opportunities are available during one or more of the following times: Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 7:00-10:45 PM and on Sunday from 1:00-5:00 PM. In addition, volunteers can develop projects to advocate in our community about issues affecting the homeless persons. Activities can be held at the shelter, in the community or on campus.
By: Shelby Jordan
About No Freeze Shelter
The No Freeze Shelter provides a safe and warm place to stay for those who do not have a home. The shelter is located on Bridge Street in Willimantic, CT. It opens at 7:30 pm from November 1st through April 1st, unless there is extreme cold weather, in which case the shelter hours are extended. The shelter provides individuals with a bed, shower, toiletries, and a safe sense of community. The shelter will not deny anyone the ability to stay, regardless of the amount of beds open. The volunteers there are responsible for helping the staff to set up before the shelter opens.
This includes stocking and organizing shelves, creating bed bags, and folding laundry. Once the shelter opens, the guests arrive and the volunteers help the guests get signed in and provide them with the items they may need. The volunteers help the guests sign up for chores and showers. They also get the supplies such as bedding, towels, blankets, and toiletries that the guests ask for. Once everyone is signed in and settled down, the volunteers then socialize with the guests, play cards and games, listen to music, and more. The guests enjoy socializing with the volunteers.
The guests have a chance to tell stories and talk about their problems, which gives them a chance to vent. The staff workers also help the guests with finding services they may need to help them.
Why I chose the No Freeze Center?
After talking with the staff at the Center for Community Engagement, I decided to volunteer at the shelter. I am an education major, and started out wanting to do the afterschool program. However, I chose to volunteer at the shelter because I thought that it would be a different kind of experience. I also volunteer with the Special Olympics, and I spend a lot of time with children for my education classes, so this would be a chance to learn something new. I am glad that I made the decision to volunteer at the shelter instead because I have learned so many great things.
My Personal Experience
I get the opportunity to engage with the guests, have conversations, and build relationships with people. We treat them like people because that is what they are and they deserve to be treated the same as anyone else. I started at the No Freeze shelter in the fall 2015 semester on Monday nights from 7 pm to 10:30 pm. On my first day I did not know what to expect. I had never volunteered at a shelter before, but I was ready for the challenge. During my time at the shelter, I helped the staff set up for the evening until it was time to open. I stocked the toiletry closet, prepared bed bags, signed our guests up for a chore, and helped the guests get the things that they asked for. At the end of the night I sat with the guests and socialized. Socializing with the guests was my favorite part of the night.
One night I was getting a guest some toiletries and he looked at me and said, “You know, you really are an awesome person, because who gies up time to come down here to spend time with us people.” At that moment I knew it was more than just volunteering, I really was making a difference.
How the Shelter Changed Me?
This experience changed me in many ways. Before I started to volunteer at the shelter I did not understand homelessness and poverty in the way I do now. I have learned so many things from going to the shelter. The most important thing that I have learned is that homeless people deserve to be treated as people, but that they are often not treated very well by others in the community. While conversing with people at the shelter, they told me stories that really shocked me.
The first story was about a man lying on a bench at the park; the police came to talk to him and told him he had to leave, and then threatened to arrest him. This was surprising to me, because the officer stereotyped against the man by assuming that he was up to no good. This is not to say that all police officers would do this, but there is a problem in law enforcement with people often being stereotyped against and targeted, even when they doing nothing wrong. Another story that I was
really taken back by told about the remarks a person would hear from college students whenever (s)he was walking near campus. These stories are surprising because they tell about the discrimination some people face due to their socioeconomic status. Instead of discriminating against them we should be helping them.
There was one event that I learned the most valuable lesson from. As an education major, I have been learning about children and how they can be affected by their home environment. One night, a family came in with three children that were four years old, two years old, and 6 months old. We are not allowed to have children in this shelter, so we directed them to the women’s shelter a few blocks away. At that moment, what I had been learning in my classes made sense to me: when a child comes into your classroom each morning, you do not know where they have been the night before, what they have been through, or if they have eaten enough. This is really important to understand, because how can we expect students to learn when they are hungry or have not gotten enough sleep because they are living in a car?
Although this moment was saddening to me, it also put into perspective what families go through every day. Overall, I think that this experience has made me realize that change needs to happen. Families should not have to suffer anymore, and people should have the satisfaction of feeling safe in their own home.
How the shelter can change the community?
The shelter can change the community in so many ways. It has already changed the community by giving the people who do not have a home a place to stay where they can be safe and warm. Willimantic has a high rate of poverty and homelessness, and this shelter offers a way to reduce some of these needs. The staff at the shelter can provide guests with contact information with other services such as with housing, food opportunities, medical appointments, and other related services. The shelter also brings the community together for a greater cause. A lot of local companies and community members either donate their time or goods such as toiletries, food, clothes, blankets, pillows, etc.
These donations mean so much to the guests at the shelter – they are so grateful for all the support they receive. I would encourage community members to visit the shelter and meet some of the guests. Once they do, they will change their attitudes about people who are homeless and will be eager to help.