Return your phone calls and respond to your emails. All of them. This probably sounds like a no brainer. Of course you’re going to, right? Well, maybe not. Resist the inclination to respond only to the situations you can handle, but ignore the ones you can’t. Don’t look at it as “wasting your time” since you can’t help the person on the other end of the line anyway because, a) they don’t live in your area, b) you don’t offer the kind of help they need, 3) they need to call someone else, etc., etc.
Never, ever forget that every request you receive is from someone who desperately needs help. Whether you can give assistance or not is not the point. The point is that they’re human beings in need. Take a minute to at least call them back so they won’t be waiting and hoping for your call. Tell them gently and with respect that you can’t help. Don’t linger too long on the reasons or get into arguments. Someone may not live in a motel and want to know why you can’t help. They may live in another county and expect you to help anyway. They may not even be homeless, but may be on the verge of losing their home. No matter what, be kind and compassionate. It goes a long way.
If possible, have a referral or two ready for the services the person does need. The “211” system (a database of services available in the county, usually manned by a real live human being and is reached simply by dialing 211) is active in many counties and states. Check to see if your area has it and use it as a referral if you do.
We received an email from a gentleman this morning who was in another county, but needed help. He acknowledged he wasn’t in Orange County, California, but could we give him a referral? He included a phone number with the email. We called him back and referred him to the 211 system. He thanked us profusely for the quick, personal call back. It gave him information he didn’t have and he felt a human connection during a time that is very frightening for him and his family.
Take the time to be kind. It costs you nothing. It’s priceless.