Nonprofit Spotlight: In the midst of a housing crisis, HRI is there

by Ann MacCreery

This week I spoke with Kathy Smyser, the Volunteer Coordinator at Housing Resources Inc. or HRI as others know it. Its mission is to assure housing for the socially or economically vulnerable people of Kalamazoo.

For most of us, housing isn’t a major consideration. We get up in the morning, go to work or school and attend to the matters of the day without giving a thought to where we’ll return at the end of the day. However, for many in Kalamazoo there is no place to call ‘home’. There is no assurance of a sound roof over our head and a dry warm place to lie down and rest after a long day. For many homeless individuals in Kalamazoo, the Rickman House on Burdick or the Family Shelter on Eleanor Street provides a place to find respite from the challenges of homelessness.

According to Kathy, HRI relies heavily upon the generous support of volunteers who come in daily to assist with special events, crafts, preparing a meal, socializing or maintenance type work projects. “We’re always willing to start new activities suggested by volunteers and give them try. Many groups do a personal care supply drive with colleagues, friends, or classmates to collect personal care items that are distributed to residents and families. Some have started reading circles or discussion groups. Our biggest hope is to provide activities that help our residents feel like they are a part of the larger community,” says Kathy.

More than 1,300 volunteers worked at Housing Resources in the past year. This includes WMU and KVCC class students, United Way Day of Caring groups and other groups who volunteer to come in on weekends to cook and serve meals to residents.

While volunteers work in a homeless shelter, HRI strives to make their facility feel like home to their residents. The setting is warm and inviting. Volunteers are asked to always treat residents with respect, and to give consideration to the fact that many have overcome extraordinary challenges to get to where they are today. Acceptance from a volunteer often helps residents believe that they are worth caring about greatly boosts their self esteem.

In our conversation, Kathy shared a story with me about the experience of two volunteers who came to work with them. “We often work with volunteers who are doing court ordered service as a result of a legal infraction. On two occasions we had volunteers come to volunteer with us after serving time in prison for driving while intoxicated. Their impaired judgment sadly resulted in an accident that took the life of another. Upon returning to the community they worked to reintegrate their lives with society and chose to volunteer at HRI. They knew that many homeless residents struggle with substance abuse and felt that if they could share their story, perhaps it would help someone else understand how important it is not to use illegal substances that may impair their judgment. These two volunteers were an inspiration to our residents and staff because they were hard working volunteers, who were willing to share the story of the burden they carry, in the hope that they could build a greater connection to other people and perhaps save them from experiencing a similar tragedy.

If you are inspired by helping others and would like to explore volunteer opportunities with HRI please visit http://www.housingresourcesinc.org/ or call Kathy at 269-382-0287 x 114.

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