At the turn of the new year, it’s customary to both look ahead and make goals for the new year and to reflect back and express gratitude to those that played important roles in our lives in the past twelve months. In my work as a volunteer manager for Portland Homeless Family Solutions, it’s no different, and I especially am grateful for all the wonderful folks who gave their time and energy to our cause.
In America these days, we talk a lot about community, but we rarely mention something called “The Third Space.” It’s a fascinating concept and, by way of a belated New Year’s resolution, I’d like to share a little about it with you.
The Third Space is a concept, developed by a sociologist named Ray Oldenburg, that describes places, separate from our homes and workplaces, where we congregate and build relationships. Oldenburg argues that these social spaces are crucial to healthy democracies, high levels of civic engagement, and general community building. (This link is a good starting place if you want to learn more.)
They are the informal meeting places of every society: barbershops, bodegas, bowling clubs, and the like. It is true that, in the past, in America, many were for men (and white men) only. That is not something to celebrate. Every culture around the world, though, has them, and sadly it is also true that their existence is fading. Increasingly, we spend our free time online, on our phones, or otherwise disengaged from immediate interpersonal interaction.
Over the past year, I’ve been conducting a small experiment at my work: I’ve been finding out why people volunteer at PHFS. The answers vary widely, as you would expect with a group of people who themselves are so diverse. Many do so because of an academic or civic requirement. Others choose to volunteer because they see the challenge of family homelessness here in Portland every day and feel compelled to act. Still others believe fiercely in our mission to make the shelter a home to eight families every day and night of the year.
The truth is, PHFS shouldn’t have to be anybody’s home. We aren’t home to our volunteers, and we’re also certainly not their work. (It’s not really ours either - it’s our passion.) And yet, without fail, each evening volunteers fill our shelter with love, compassion, and acceptance for the eight homeless families with children who stay there. They make PHFS their home away from home: their third space.
At Portland Homeless Family Solutions, we build relationships, we strengthen the community, we make friends, we find connections, and we put families back in homes. And all of this is accomplished because of the service of our volunteers. Their presence at our shelter makes that place into a third space for the guests and the volunteers.
As a supporter of World Pulse, you're more than familiar with community. What you may have not realized, though, is that World Pulse is in fact one of the biggest, most diverse, and healthiest third spaces around the globe! Now more than ever, as we edge into a new year filled with challenges for women, organizations like World Pulse will play a pivotal role for communities: by creating a third space for every woman.