Everyone Counts: Motivation to Volunteer at 2am

A sign posted on the wall at the One Night Count Headquarters at the Compass Housing Alliance.
A sign posted on the wall at the One Night Count Headquarters at the Compass Housing Alliance.

The homeless counts at the end of January revealed how many people are without shelter in Washington state. Count volunteers come away motivated to advocate for affordable housing and there are lots of advocacy events in the near future! In this “Everyone Counts” blog post, Erin from the YWCA hears from volunteers both at the downtown One Night Count headquarters and also in Renton. Following volunteer quotes and video, you’ll also find a list of great advocacy resources and events so we can create change together. 

Written by Erin Murphy, Director of Community Engagement, YWCA Seattle I King I Snohomish.

It was my third year volunteering, but my first at the One Night Count Headquarters in downtown Seattle. In previous years, I was assigned to help in South King County, in Renton which had shaped my expectations of the Count. Lot of volunteers come out, but we still all fit in one large room and the atmosphere feels fairly calm–fitting for such early morning hours!

Renton One Night Count Volunteers

While I may not have been in Renton this year, I had colleagues that were and interviewed volunteers there on their motivations for volunteering. Thank you to the following volunteers that shared their thoughts!

I’ve always been committed to social justice and I’ve always associated with the underdog. I’ve been a social worker for 26 years. I first started by working with teen runaways at the YWCA. I come back every year to volunteer with the One Night Count because I love seeing positive change happen for homeless communities, even though the change is slow. For instance, housing for homeless young people has progressed since when she was starting out. And now there are better solutions to homelessness, like wet houses. I think solutions for homeless families are key to fighting homelessness. – Gina

I’m here because this is something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time. While, it’s not a very good feeling finding people out there. You at least know that you were part of something that is helpful and that will ultimately be used to advocate for solutions, like the Housing Trust Fund and maybe more money in the budget for homeless and housing programs. – Ryan

At the end of the day, we have to decide what kind of people we’re going to be. And I choose to be someone who’s part of a society that cares for the homeless and most vulnerable. – Keith

Well, I’m here tonight because I want to do something positive for the community. I think it’s really important that we are all here tonight because people in the legislature need to know how great the need is so that can figure out resources to stop homelessness in the next year.  I’ll definitely do this again next year. – Ann

I believe in this. Homeless people are here. And we need to figure out what to do about it. We need effective solutions. And we can only have the right solutions if we know about the need. So that’s why I volunteered tonight. – Anonymous

One Night Count Downtown Headquarters

This year, when I arrived at the downtown Headquarters, you could hear the hub bub of volunteers before you even entered the building! Organized by the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, volunteers filled three rooms and teams found each other by signs posted all along the walls. I was assigned to join a team comprised of staff from the YMCA of Greater Seattle Young Adult Services with a mixture of experienced and new volunteers. After a round of introductions, we drove out to our counting area in the Magnolia neighborhood and in the span of an hour counted about 18 people sleeping outside and in vehicles. Our team lead captured our feelings well when she said, “Finding someone feels like success but you also don’t want to find anyone!”

The YMCA team was a dedicated and friendly group and I learned a lot about their motivations for volunteering both before and after we counted. You can too since it’s captured on video below!

YMCA of Greater Seattle Young Adult Services staff volunteered at the 2013 One Night Count and share their thoughts on volunteering. 

Next Steps: Advocate!

Volunteering by counting is a big part of the One Night Count, but advocating for improved policies and funding is an equally, if not a more important part of the event as it extends beyond those 2-5am hours. The Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness invited volunteers to fill out advocacy postcards upon their return from the streets that will be hand delivered to legislators in Olympia.

Here’s a list of great advocacy events and resources:

  • SKCCH Homelessness Advocacy 101 Workshop this Saturday! Presented in two locations throughout the day, it is a great way to meet other advocates and get a breakdown of how legislative advocacy works.
  • Housing & Homelessness Advocacy Day in Olympia hosted by the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance this Monday, 2/11/13. Imagine 500 + advocates speaking up for affordable housing and then imagine you there–now let’s make it happen! I’ll be there along with many YWCA staff and board members and am very excited to be presenting a 201 Social Media workshop! If you do attend, I would love to have you attend the Firesteel training.
  • Social Media 101 for Housing Advocates hosted by Firesteel and the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance–online now!
Snapshot of Google+ Hangout re Social Media 101 for Housing Advocates

We’ve already given a 101 social media training, but no worries if you missed it! It is online and you can view the entire training on YouTube. We focus on the basics of Facebook and Twitter and how to use those social networks to advocate for affordable housing.

Let’s continue the momentum from the One Night Count and other homeless counts and advocate to end homelessness!

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