Crossing boundaries as an outreach worker.  Be prepared for the whole story

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Well it had to be written about; crossing boundaries. How does an outreach worker stay neutral in the face of adversity? How do you face hardships and sorrows day in and day out without needing to do something more? How many times can you hand a kid a sandwich and walk away knowing they will be sleeping in a stairwell that night. What about a pregnant girl… what about a pregnant dog???

I have to admit it; I can be an overly emotional and empathetic person. It’s hard for me to not just bring everyone home. Most outreach organizations have strict boundary regulations in place… and for a good reason.

You see, while you are seeing the in the moment hardship of that individual, you are not seeing the whole picture of that individual. You are only glimpsing a portion of their lives. This is why we don’t judge our homeless friends, because they ARE more than their sufferings. And that’s why you don’t invite a person home… because they are more than the problem you are immediately trying to solve. Yes, you get them off the streets for a night but then the rest of the story unfolds; and you don’t know what that story is. Are you prepared to be a grief counselor, an addictions counselor, a life coach, a psychiatrist, health care nurse? What about anger management? If you take another human being into your home, you’d better be ready for the whole story.

The same for animals, what if they are sick, or have fleas, or have an aversion to children? The image of a sad puppy on the street is not the whole story.

These are the reasons that clear boundaries between workers and clients are so important. If you want to do more, then remember there are highly specialized services out there that can provide the appropriate help. There are many ways to give without needing to solve all the problems of one human being. If you feel you are burning out from helping too much, then take a break from all the hardship and spend some quality time with your family and friends. Help a neighbour or a family member with some chores instead. There are a million ways to you can help with the resources you have. Never underestimate what you can bring to the table, however small.  And remember, you are not in this alone! Together, we can make a difference.

– Dana Cote, Youth Outreach Worker

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