This past weekend I volunteered at an organization called Homeless Action Committee (HAC). The main purpose of this organization is to “improve the lives of homeless people and advocate for permanent solutions to the problems of homelessness.” One of the many tasks that this organization accomplishes on a daily basis is to provide the homeless with food, clothing, blankets, etc. They carry out this operation through their Outreach Van Program, which is a van that drives around the city of Albany providing the homeless people some of their basic needs.
I took part of the Outreach Van Program. I was at the van with two other people from the organization. Our main goal was to drive around the city and find people who live on the streets to provide them with sandwiches, water, and blankets, among other things. A lot of the homeless people recognized the van when we were driving by, so as soon as they saw the van, they waved at us, so we can stop to give them food. It was very depressing to see the amount of people out there who didn’t have a place to stay, or anything to eat. What was even more depressing was to listen to those people’s stories. Mostly all of them had something in common; they ended up being homeless due to alcoholism and/or drug addiction. Most of them were once well-established citizens with full time jobs, professional careers, and families, but they lost it all to their respective addictions.
Mary was the first homeless person I met. Mary is an elderly lady who sleeps at a park by the Hudson Riverfront. When we drove by the park, Mary was sitting on a bench reading a book. She was quiet and very isolated. Nobody really knows her story. According to other people who work for this organization, she never talks to anybody. We approached her and handed her a cup of coffee, some sandwiches, and some granola bars. She looked at us, and with a gentle gesture, took the food and said “Thank you,” as she went back to reading her book. We immediately drove away and found Nicole and Jen. Nicole and Jen are two women in their mid 40s. They are currently living in a building that has been condemned – nobody can live there. They are not the only ones who live there though. This is a common place for homeless people go to live. Jen was a really nice lady. She was very happy that we were there for her and was very thankful to us. She told us a lot of things about her personal life. She told us how she had lost her food stamps for not attending her appointments, and how much she needs her food stamps back. The third person that we helped that day was Jack. Jack is a very young man – he is in his early 30s. He used to work for the state, but he lost his job due to alcoholism. Despite the fact that he is homeless, Jack has a very positive outlook in life. He has a great attitude and plans on getting help to stop his addiction.
I really enjoyed my volunteer experience at the Homeless Action Committee Outreach Van. It was very depressing to see the people in those living conditions, however, it felt really good to be able to talk to them and help them. One thing that I learned about this experience is that anybody could become homeless.