What Volunteers Do
Our shelter depends on volunteers to stay over each night and keep the shelter running.
- Two volunteers show up by 7:30pm to set up.
- Twelve guests arrive by bus around 8:30pm.
- Lights are out by 10pm, with wake up at 6am.
- A light breakfast is served, everybody cleans up together, and the shelter is packed away by 7am.
We invite you to learn more about the shelter.
Become a volunteer in three easy steps:
- Email us your name, email and phone number.
- Attend a 60 minute training session.
- Sign up to volunteer monthly.
Welcome / Training Sessions
If you'd like to visit our shelter and see what we're all about, we'd love to have you for a welcome/training session.
Please click this link to email Katy Homans with your name, email, and phone number.
Or email us here:
We'll schedule a time for you to join us for a training session, usually on a weeknight, where you'll see the shelter and learn everything that our volunteers do.
Thank you for your interest!
For your convenience, here is the handbook that our volunteers use.
In January 1982, in response to the growing crisis of homelessness in New York City, a small number of members of Fifteenth Street Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends opened the Friends Shelter.
The shelter is located at the 15th Street Meeting Meetinghouse at 15 Rutherford Place between East 15th and East 16th Streets, east of Third Avenue in Manhattan. The Shelter continues to open every night of the year - that is, every night that we have two volunteers.
Thanks to people like you, we are open every night!
Each night fourteen homeless people come to us as our guests. They come to us by bus from the Mainchance Drop-In Center near Grand Central Station. Many of our guests have a history of mental illness, or drug or alcohol addiction, but before they come to us, they are screened for alcohol, drugs, and illness. We greet them at the door as they arrive together between 8:15 and 8:30 pm.
A Shelter Committee, appointed annually by 15th Street Meeting, is responsible for running the shelter. There is a clerk who convenes the committee, and volunteer coordinators who ensure that there are two volunteers on the calendar for each night of the month.
The clerk is Katy Homans. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Katy's phone number is given to volunteers once they sign up for their first night, and it's also on display in the shelter kitchen.
The volunteer coordinators are volunteers who enjoy talking on the phone and persuading other volunteers to sign up. The volunteer coordinators may be members of the committee, but they don't have to be.
The volunteer coordinator position is filled by a different person each month. If you need to contact a coordinator while you are volunteering, their contact information is posted inside the shelter kitchen door.
The Shelter Committee meets when needed, and all meetings are open to anyone who is interested in attending. Please let the clerk know if you are interested, and you will be informed of the meetings.
Every once in a while, there is a potluck supper gathering of all the volunteers, giving us the opportunity to share Shelter experiences, resolve problems, and make suggestions to improve the workings of the Shelter or enhance the comfort of our guests.
Signing Up to Volunteer
We ask our volunteers to sign up for one night each month. You can do that on our website, www.friendsshelter.org, or by calling the volunteer coordinator or Katy. (Phone numbers are provided when you first sign up as a volunteer.)
Each night, two volunteers sleep over at the Shelter. They arrive at about 7:30 pm to set up the cots and refreshment tables and to shop for perishable food if necessary. They read the last few days in the Log Book to see if there is new information or shopping requests.
Lights are out at 10:00 pm and wake-up time is at 6:00 am. The bus comes at about 6:15-6:30 am to take our guests back to the Drop-in Center.
In the unusual circumstance that one volunteer does not show up, call the volunteer coordinator or Katy shortly after 8:00 pm so that we can try to arrange an emergency replacement.
When the guests arrive, they collect their bag of linen from the previous night and ask for pillows, towels, and blankets. We give them as many as they need, but we receive a limited amount of clean laundry so we need to be judicious.
On Tuesday morning, the volunteers collect and bag ALL dirty linen. And on Tuesday night, all guests get new laundry. The volunteers will shelve the excess lineses that arrive on Tuesday evening. You'll also find this schedule posted inside the shelter kitchen door, in case you forget.
We ask the guests to sign the Sign-In Book, which we put at the end of the table. One guest will bring the bus manifest from the Drop-in Center, a list of the men and women assigned to our shelter. This list is kept in the Sign-In Book.
Anyone who is not on the list may not stay at the Shelter.
During the evening we encourage our guests to socialize with each other and with the volunteers. We are always friendly, but we do not pry. Frequently, there are lively and interesting discussions on all sorts of subjects. In addition there are games in the kitchen, if guests or volunteers are interested in playing.
Homelessness is an exhausting experience and many of our guests just want to sleep. That too, is fine.
In the morning we set up a light breakfast. After breakfast, we put away the cots and tables, and any leftover food that is still fresh.
Our guests put their sheets and pillowcases in plastic bags with their names on it to save for the next night. A large clear laundry bag is available for dirty towels.
We check to see that the refrigerator, sink and the kitchen are clean and organized. If necessary, the floor is mopped.
We check the bathrooms, pick up any debris, and wipe over the sinks with a towel. The large black garbage bag is tied and carried around to the 15th Street side of the building.
We write a note in the Log Book of any special incidents, good or bad, that occurred. If there is anything that requires immediate attention, please call Katy. The bus arrives at about 6:15-6:30 am, and most volunteers have finished tidying up and are on their way by 7:00.
Food is donated by the Friends Seminary School when school is in session. On weekends and holidays, food is often donated by people using takethemameal.com. Your coordinator should notify you if someone will be dropping off food on the night you volunteer.
There is a list of non-perishable supplies that are bought in bulk: paper goods, canned juices, cereal, peanut butter, jelly, coffee, tea, etc. These supplies are ordered when needed and stored in Room 12, two flights up. The key for Room 12 is hung in the Shelter kitchen. Some changes can be made to this supply, so if you have suggestions, please bring them to the committee, or call Katy.
Each night the volunteers check the food in the refrigerator. We should always have milk, bread, and fruit. Volunteers may choose to buy other items that they think the guests might enjoy: ice cream, coffeecake, etc.
One of the volunteers gets the laminated volunteer "pass" from the kitchen, and goes out to West Side Market to buy what is needed. West Side Market is located at 84 3rd Ave: on the west side of Third Avenue and the south corner of 12th Street.
At West Side Market, you'll give the cashier the volunteer "pass" instead of paying for the food, and after they call a manager over, you will sign for your purchase.
Please check the refrigerator before you shop and before you open new jars and cans. We should not have several open jars of peanut butter or cans of apple juice. All food left in the refrigerator should be wrapped or put in plastic bags or containers and labeled with a date. And most importantly, if you are in doubt about the freshness of any food, THROW IT OUT!
Our sheets, towels, blankets and beds are provided by Mainchance. On Tuesday mornings, the volunteers collect all the dirty linen and place it in the yellow bin in the cabinet under the stairway in the hall. Clean linen is left in the cabinet later in the day.
Tuesday evening volunteers put the linen on the shelves in the kitchen. If you find that any linen will not fit, store it on the second floor landing in the large metal cabinet. The key is hanging on a hook in the kitchen, along with other keys.
The shelter has several fleece blankets that are kept in the kitchen. THESE BLANKETS ARE NOT TO BE SENT OUT WITH THE LAUNDRY. If you think it is time for clean blankets, please call Katy, who will arrange for pick-up and delivery.
We buy the plastic tablecloths. They must be washed and dried each morning to remove the sticky goo. We have also bought an iron and ironing board for any guest who wishes to use them. There is a first aid box with bandaids and painkillers for guests who ask for them.
We have bins of toothbrushes and toothpaste, shaving supplies, shampoo, soap, etc. available to guests who want them. Please write to Katy if more supplies are needed.
If you notice we are out of anything, or see that guests are requesting a specific item, please let Katy know.
Rules and Regulations
We try to have as few rules as possible but we have some.
- Guests may not leave personal possessions in the Shelter or kitchen.
- Guests are not permitted in the kitchen.
- No alcohol or drugs are permitted anywhere in the building.
- Smoking is not permitted anywhere except in the back courtyard. Ashtrays are available to be taken out to the courtyard.
- If a guest leaves during the night, he or she may not return that night.
The building staff is on duty, Monday through Friday until 10:00 pm. The staff person on duty locks the outside gate when he or she leaves. In the morning, one of the volunteers unlocks the gate.
The building has two alarm systems: a fire alarm and a burglar alarm. The boxes are located in the vestibule behind the desk. The fire alarm will bring out the fire department. The burglar alarm occasionally goes off for no apparent reason. If you do not hear or see anything out of the ordinary, just wait; it may stop after several minutes. If not, call Katy to get the alarm code.
On Saturdays and Sundays the building is frequently locked when the volunteers arrive. A key is left for them with a doorman in a paticular building nearby. If you volunteer on a weekend, your volunteer coordinator will email you with the address. Or, you can log into the volunteer portal to get the address.
The doorman will have the keys in an envelope labeled with the volunteers' names. The doorman will not give the key to anyone whose name is not on the envelope. Please be sure to return the key in the morning so it is there for the next night's volunteers.
We do not let anyone into the Shelter whose name is not on the list. If a stranger appears at the door and does not appear drunk or disorderly, refer him or her to Mainchance, which is in easy walking distance:
Main Chance Drop-In Center
120 East 32nd Street
New York, NY 10016
Thank you for becoming a Friends Shelter volunteer.
Because of you, fourteen homeless people will have a warm, friendly place to sleep.
Have a good night!