Volunteers of America: Combating Homelessness, One Person at a Time


 For 21 nights in November and December, Volunteers of America (VOA) sheltered an average of 23 additional people per night, above and beyond their standard shelter capacity of 52.  Typically, this quantity isn’t seen until January and February.

“Overall, some of the trends we’re seeing in homelessness are troubling. We’re seeing more families. We’re seeing more seniors. Not only do these bust the stereotypes of homelessness, they’re also the most vulnerable populations. They face the most risk to health and well-being without stable housing,” said Darin Estep, vice president of community engagement for Volunteers of America Michigan.

Estep adds the biggest misconception about homelessness he’s encountered is that homelessness is a choice. “The simple fact is that living outdoors or under a bridge is never a rational decision. What all homeless cases have in common is a damaging event or condition: mental illness, family estrangement, long-term illness.”

Operating in Lansing since 1896, the VOA is the largest homeless service provider in the region, with the added advantage of offering most services under one roof at 430 N. Larch Street. Those services include emergency shelter for men, women and children, the Hotel Emergency Lodging Program (HELP), the medical clinic, the dental clinic, Ability Law Clinic benefits, a community kitchen, transitional housing, employment help for veterans, the New Hope Day Center, and more.

When asked how the average person can help, Estep said, “Volunteering is a great way to experience our work and meet the people we serve.” A popular volunteer activity is serving in the community kitchen. “Anyone who spends 90 minutes serving a nutritious meal to someone who is hungry will be struck by the sincere gratitude they find on that cafeteria line.”

Another way to help is by supporting Homeless No More, a fun event for a serious cause. Funds raised will cover gaps in funding for the VOA in Lansing. The networking event offers a strolling buffet, cash bar and an auction for a painting titled “Homeless No More.” The painting is donated by Reuben Kenyatta, a VOA veterans program graduate. The event is 5:30-8:30 p.m., Feb. 13 at the Kellogg Center.

For information on the event or volunteer opportunities, visit www.voami.org.

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