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Volunteer Handbook

For short-term court and school mandated volunteer hours, long- term “hospitality volunteers”, those working with us on ready-to-work programs as well as those volunteering for the seasonal off-site overflow shelter: “Inn from the Cold”.

The MISSION of Joseph’s House & Shelter is to provide non- judgmental services to end homelessness.

The VISION of Joseph’s House & Shelter is of a community where everyone has safe and affordable housing.

The VALUES of Joseph’s House & Shelter are:

  • We recognize an individual’s strengths, capacities, and right to self-determination.
  • We affirm each person’s dignity and respect through non- judgmental advocacy.
  • We commit to Housing First and harm reduction principles.

The intention of the Volunteer Program at Joseph’s House & Shelter is to provide an opportunity for people from the community to volunteer in service to those experiencing homelessness, helping us better serve our guests at a difficult time of their life.

As our guests benefit from the skills and compassion of our volunteers, so our volunteers grow in their understanding of the causes and solutions to homelessness in our society and can advocate with others on behalf of all those who spend time at a shelter for the diverse and complex reasons that happens.

Short-term and Long-term Volunteer Positions

Some of our volunteers come to us for a limited number of hours to complete service requirements for school, fraternal organizations, ready-to-work programs or court. These people will typically need to have supervision to be in compliance. All others fall under the title “Hospitality Volunteers” and include those who give their time primarily to our overflow shelter: Inn from the Cold.

Some Terminology

Housing First means we believe people need the stability of a home before they can begin to work on the other issues they are facing.

Harm reduction means that where people choose to continue behaviors that bear significant risks, we encourage guests and tenants to explore the safest way of doing that.

Self Determination means we believe it is the privilege of every person to choose their lifestyle and be a part in the decisions about their life.

Guests and Tenants: Joseph’s House has both guests and tenants. Guests is the name for the women, men and children staying at the short-term emergency homeless shelter often called “ Ferry Street” or “the Shelter.” Joseph’s House has two other locations you might volunteer and the people living in the Lansing Inn and Hill Street Inn are our tenants. These offer permanent housing to former guests of the Shelter who would most benefit from the services offered there.

Advocates and Advice: All guests and tenants have an advocate working with them in the building they are staying. The advocate knows their full history and is making plans with them. As a result, we try to avoid giving advice to guests, and telling them what to do. Instead we provide and remind guests of accessible resources, and trust they will choose what is best for their well-being.

Important Policies & Procedures

The rules and policies Joseph’s House operates by, are to do with personal and community safety. The rules and policies are shared with guests at their intake, and with staff and volunteers when they first arrive at Joseph’s House. The policies are presented differently for different groups but the content is similar because they all serve the same aim: the safety of all. When reminding people of these rules for cooperative living, care is taken to remind the person not only of the rule but also the reason for the rule.

Being non-judgmental: One of the most important traits for our volunteers, is the ability to practice being non-judgmental. Staff and volunteers are encouraged to not judge or impose their own culturally biased impressions upon guests. Each guest is dealing with unimaginable stress; as a team member, we work to support each person by acknowledging his/her strengths and capacity. We honor each guest’s right to self determination.

Confidentiality: One of the most important responsibilities of Joseph’s House volunteers is maintaining the confidentiality of guests. In addition to state and federal laws that require us to maintain the privacy of our guests, confidentiality is also a principle we strongly believe in. Joseph’s House missions statement reads “each guest’s dignity and worth are recognized and respected”. Building trust with the privacy of our guests is one way we are able to meet our mission.

Confidentiality generally entails that we do not share or disclose our guest’s names, medical conditions, financial circumstances, personal relations, drug or alcohol habits, sexual orientation, employment, or any other personal information to other guests, or people outside of the shelter including agencies, police, or friends. We do not talk about a guest in front of another guest, or leave personal papers or messages for others to see. However, there are important exceptions to confidentiality; state and federal law requires that we contact certain emergency and safety services if:

  • A guest presents a danger to him/her self or others
  • A guest is suspected to maltreatment of a minor (person under the age of 18)
  • The courts subpoena Joseph’s House for specific information about a guest.

Under these circumstances, only a staff member is allowed to violate confidentiality. If you suspect one of these conditions mentioned above exist, alert a Joseph’s House staff person immediately. Guests are notified of our confidentiality policies the day they enter services with us, and sign an agreement acknowledging these policies.

Looking out for everyone: guests, tenants, staff, volunteers

The following guidelines help keep us all safe. Volunteers – like our staff and guests- are expected to adhere to these policies for the good of all.

Practicing Good Boundaries

Volunteers act alongside staff in doing the work of the agency. There are important boundaries in the volunteer/guest relationship that do not exist in a typical personal relationship. It is useful to clearly establish these boundaries from the beginning for your safety, as well as our guests’ well being. In the interest of the safety of all - guests, volunteers & paid staff, and as long as they are with us, volunteers should not:

  • Give out their phone number, mailing address, email address, or any other personal information. Do not befriend a guest on social media.
  • Attempt to contact a guest outside of your volunteer schedule
  • Arrange to meet elsewhere or leave the premises with a guest
  • Give, accept, or loan any money, gifts, or other items of value*
  • Agree to keep an exclusive secret between you and a guest.
  • Enter a private room alone with a guest

*Volunteers are asked to not give gifts directly to our guests. If a volunteer sees a need and can help, please speak with the Volunteer Coordinator who can liaise with the guest’s advocate.

Clothing: To keep our buildings professional and in good order: Please do not wear revealing, provocative or gang-related clothing. Dress accordingly for the task you will be doing. No open-toed sandals or flip-flops in the kitchen; appropriate clothing if you are painting or doing other maintenance.

Additional safety guidelines: If someone appears to be unwell, or is over anxious or depressed, please alert staff. If a conversation between guests is getting heated, do not try to break it up, get a staff person! If you ever feel threatened by the language of behavior of a guest, walk away and notify staff. This is never okay. If you are helping with laundry or garbage there are always gloves in the cleaning closet, at the front desk or the kitchen. Please ask for them. Volunteers are not expected to clean any bodily fluids and spills (blood, vomit, etc.) Notify a staff person of the issue. They have the equipment and the training to take care of it. Notify staff of suspected domestic violence or maltreatment of a child or at-risk adult. Joseph’s House is a safe place to volunteer and work. Physical conflicts are extremely rare. Guests are not allowed to enter when noticeably intoxicated or high. Drugs, alcohol and firearms are not allowed on site. None the less, being homeless is extremely stressful and some guests may not have had many role models with strong problem solving skills. By providing a calm and professional environment volunteers and staff build trust; by being sensitive to a great diversity of background and situations we all help restore normalcy.

Shift notification and communication: We ask volunteers to fill out a “shift note” form when they volunteer with us. This allows the Volunteer Coordinator to keep good records which might help you if applying for a job, college or fraternal organization. It helps Joseph’s House because we can use it to attest to the goodwill members of the community have for our organization and mission. This helps when we apply for grants. The shift note includes a place for noting the day and length of your volunteer service; a space for the site and tasks completed and a space for comments, including next shift, if known. Having a regular shift is very helpful, as staff can keep something aside that fits your interest and skill. If you are able to keep a regular schedule for your volunteering, let us know.

Smoking There are designated smoking areas at our sites, outside the buildings. Ask if you need to know the location.

Meals Meals are served at noon and 5pm, with snacks available throughout the day. Volunteers who are working through a meal time are welcome to eat too. Meals are served at noon and 5pm, staff and volunteers usually allow the guests to be served first. Help in serving and clearing away, including cleaning the kitchen or dining area after meals, is very much appreciated.

Time sitting with a guest is not wasted time! Our hospitality volunteers can play an important part in the lives of our guests and tenants by making them feel accepted and cared about. Playing cards or pool, chatting about sport or a TV show can help negate the feeling that they have become invisible in society. There are usually a lot of tasks waiting to be done – but spending time with our guests is just as important.

The Programs of Joseph’s House & Shelter

The Emergency Shelter (Ferry Street) has 28 beds for adult men & women. Single adults sleep in semi-private rooms share bathrooms, a living room, and a dining area. In cold weather, up to 15 individuals will be sleep overnight in one of 4 local churches, and during Code Blue nights, the shelter can house more than our formal capacity, in order to keep people safe. All told, Joseph’s House shelters nearly 1,000 individuals each year.

The Family Shelter in the same location, has 12+ Beds. Almost 300 of those 1000 guests, are adults with their children, who are sheltered in the Family Shelter. Families are housed in a private suite, accessed only by the families and those who serve them.

80% of the people who come to our door will be a guest once , or maybe briefly, twice. 20% of people who we will see repeatedly because their homelessness is long-term owing to other conditions.

The Lansing Inn and Hill Street Inn Among the group of people who we identify as having had repeated episodes of homelessness (“chronically homeless”), many have mental health diagnoses. We have two buildings to house people in that category and whom we have been unable to help to remain housed using our usual services. These houses have been very successful in bringing normalcy and stability to those who live there. The Lansing Inn has 26 Single Efficiency Apartments, and the Hill Street Inn has 18 single apartments and 2 full apartments for couples. Both provide safe, affordable, permanent, supported housing people with a history of chronic homelessness, all of whom have a mental health diagnosis. On-site staff provide meals, assistance with daily living skills and advocacy services.

Advocacy and Resettlement Services Advocates work with guests to identify permanent housing opportunities, entitlements and treatment and to address the issues that precipitated homelessness. Many former guests keep in touch with their advocates and the family team will stay in touch with many families for years, offering encouragement and support.

Outreach Outreach is provided to adults with life circumstances that impede their ability to secure or maintain housing. Outreach seeks out those living rough in the community, taking out cold water on hot days, blankets and warming packs in cold weather, razors, toothpaste and socks all year as they build trust with those who are not yet ready to seek support in the shelter.

Special Cold Weather Programs: Inn from the Cold and Code Blue Code Blue is activated whenever the weather is extremely cold and dangerous for those sleeping outside. Since January 2016 this has been set at 32 degrees F. Prior to that it had to be colder or very snowy. Code Blue means we can house more than our regular census of individuals but also welcome in those who, for many reasons, will not usually spend time in a homeless shelter. This low-demand option allows people to come in for something to eat and to sleep, typically arriving at 9pm or later and leaving early the next morning. The dining room is converted to a dormitory every evening when Code Blue has been called.

The Inn from the Cold Program has been allowing Joseph’s House to house and serve additional at risk individuals by having up to 15 of our guests sleep overnight in a local church, along with staff and volunteers. The guests return to the Shelter in the morning, for food, showers, to meet with their advocates or spend the day. For the full description, and volunteer opportunities, please see over.

Overnight Overflow Shelter Volunteers

Inn from the Cold

Joseph’s House & Shelter and a coalition of churches in downtown Troy, have been running a seasonal overflow shelter during the Winter months for several years. The goal of this temporary shelter is to provide a safe environment with overnight accommodations for up to fifteen individuals who are receiving services with Joseph’s House until they have secured housing. IFTC allows Joseph’s House & Shelter to expand the number of beds provided to the homeless during the cold months (mid-November through mid-April) when demand for shelter beds in Troy is overwhelming. This means up to15 beds can be made available at the Ferry Street (emergency shelter) site, to serve the growing number of persons coping with severe and chronic disabilities. Every night a staff person and at least one, preferably two, volunteers sleep overnight with our guests. Guests are those who we know to be able to do well in a dormitory and shared space situation. No one can simply knock on the church door and ask to stay the night. The Ferry Street building is always the first place for all enquiries.

The who, what and how for volunteers:


  • Volunteers must be 18 years or older.
  • Volunteers who are able to be non judgmental.


  • Volunteer shifts are an overnight, 10 hour shift from 9:30 pm -7:30 am, and a trained Joseph’s House employee is present during these overnight shifts
  • Is potentially able to commit to at least two shifts during a month’s time (Volunteers should be able to sleep for most of their shift)
  • Volunteers help setup the overnight shelter when everyone arrives at 9:30 pm, help locate snacks and put these away before lights out, and help the staff person sweep floors and remove trash at the end of the shift. We hope volunteers and guests will interact, chat or play cards or another game.
  • Volunteers may bring in snacks or soda. Savory ones are most appreciated – from chips or nuts, to pizza.


  • As a volunteer, there will be a training and orientation to participate in prior to beginning your volunteer experience. This should last no longer than one hour.
  • Volunteers may sign up individually or in teams of two. Most volunteers self-schedule on our online sign up. The system sends a reminder 2 days before the planned shift. Anyone who so prefers, can schedule by phone. Volunteers can also volunteer to be available to be a last-minute substitute whether or not they take regularly scheduled shifts.
  • Volunteers are responsible for finding a trained substitute if they are unable to attend a scheduled shift at short notice. Telephone numbers for volunteers willing to be substitutes will be available by calling Joseph’s House and by email.
  • All volunteers are covered under Joseph’s House volunteer liability insurance

Volunteers are asked to :

- Be prompt to welcome the guests.

- Listen with compassion (without giving advice).

- Be confidential about our guests.

- Chat or play a game with a guest.

- Inform staff of safety concerns or someone who seems distressed.

- Assist staff member with set up and clean-up.

- Provide support in the case of an emergency.