Recently, I was scrolling through my emails after completing virtual training for a new job at a shelter. Suddenly, a notification from my supervisor popped up. I opened the message and quickly realized that I wasn’t being placed in a normal shelter.
My new job was in a COVID-19 isolation shelter.
Before the pandemic, my city didn’t have isolation centers. However, due to an increase in COVID-19 cases, my city, like many others worldwide, opened isolation shelters in hotels to house residents who experience homelessness. Unlike a normal homeless shelter, clients are transferred to an isolation shelter if they test positive for COVID-19 or are awaiting test results.
I couldn’t believe that within a week of receiving that email, I would be on the frontlines fighting against COVID-19. Four weeks into my job, here are some of the lessons I’ve learned from working at an isolation shelter:
1. You’ll be grateful for your team.
Working in an isolation shelter is no easy feat, and the demanding environment will affect both you and your coworkers. However, your team knows what you’re going through, and they’ll always be there to help you. What’s not to love?
2. Confronting your biases takes time.
Since you’re working with vulnerable populations, it’s difficult to ignore the stigma surrounding homelessness. However, the more you interact with others, the more your perceptions on homelessness will change. You’ll learn that homeless people are just like you – they just haven’t had the easiest road in life.
3. Sometimes working in a shelter is frustrating.
Just like with any other job, you’ll have good days and bad days. Your bad days may involve stress from being in a chaotic environment or the frustration of making mistakes. But when you’re in the thick of the harder days, just remember that good days are coming.
4. You won’t understand everything from the get-go.
If you haven’t worked in a shelter, it may be difficult to immerse yourself into your new work environment at first. You may find it challenging to learn new terminology and skills, communicate with others, and keep up with your workload. Once you start training, though, you’ll realize how transferable the skills from your previous jobs really are.
5. Some days, you’ll want to quit.
Working in a risky environment is daunting, so your nerves may get the best of you. You may wonder if it’s worth sticking with your job, but when you realize how impactful it is, you’ll want to keep going.
6. You’ll understand social issues better.
When you work in an isolation shelter, you’re exposed to difficult realities, like income inequality, dual diagnosis, and food insecurity. You’ll soon realize that a lack of resources and support can negatively impact anyone, and many people struggle to find support for socioeconomic and mental health challenges.
7. Night shifts will become your friend.
Unlike morning and afternoon shifts, night shifts often allow you to learn new techniques in a longer period of time. Usually, morning and afternoon shifts mainly involve managing clients. But during night shifts, you can focus on administrative work, which often means that you have more time to relax.
8. Money isn’t everything
It’s tempting to choose your job based on salary and prospects. When you work in a shelter, though, you’ll realize that money isn’t as important as the work. We work this job because we want to help others and educate ourselves about overarching social issues.
One morning after my shift ended, our whole team and I gathered and discussed the social injustices we saw firsthand. We also talked about the importance of having a loving heart while working in a demanding environment. It wasn’t a long conversation, but it was maybe the most inspirational conversation I’ve ever had.
If you work in a COVID-19 isolation shelter, then you know both how difficult and how rewarding your job can be. Although shelter work can be tough, you’ll never have a more fulfilling job!