Thoughtful Community Service Ideas to Help the Homeless

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Homelessness is an issue that hits home with just about everyone. One of the things that is most startling about it is that it could happen to just about anyone if the right string of events took place at the wrong time. Basically, anyone is one or two paychecks away from being homeless themselves. This especially rings true with so much of the world going through financial turmoil right now.

When I was in college, I was the co-chair of a community service organization called Chrysalis. The goal of the group was to promote community between our campus and the homeless population in the city of Nashville. The period of time I spent working in that position opened my eyes to how some people wanted to help the homeless but were not quite sure what they could do. This article is a way of demonstrating five simple but effective ways anyone can help to combat homelessness in their own community.

Organize a Coat Drive

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Although every season can be harsh on a homeless person due to exposure to the elements, winter can be especially devastating. Every year there are articles about homeless people that die due to hypothermia because they did not have enough protection from cold temperatures.

One way to help prevent these tragedies is to make sure that every homeless person at least has a coat to shield himself from the wintry weather. A coat drive is an excellent way to gather new and used coats that can be donated at local shelters and soup kitchens. In addition to having coats donated from the general public, organizers can also speak with businesses and local clothing stores to see if they have any inventory they are willing to give away.

Distribute Lunches Around Town

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One of the more successful projects that we used to do in Nashville was to pass out bagged lunches to homeless individuals and families. Usually we would meet up as a large group early in the morning and make sandwiches and cut up fruits and vegetables. After bagging the lunches, we would insert a small business card that listed all of the social service resources that may be useful to someone in need.

At that point, we would branch out in groups of 3-5 people in order to distribute the lunches. Usually this was a great chance for all of us to interact with people who were going through a very hard time. Often times, the people we gave lunches to would be more than happy to tell us about how they became homeless in the first place and what their plans were for the future. A few times, we took local middle-schoolers with us, and it was an eye opening experience for them to actually hear how homelessness could occur.

Ultimately, it was just one lunch, but it usually left a lasting impression on the group of volunteers. It also allowed us to pass on a list of resources that may have helped a homeless person in need.

Volunteer at a Family Shelter

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People tend to forget that many of the homeless are not adults yet. There is a growing number of children that are homeless due to their families losing their homes or because they ran away from home. In any case, there are family shelters that end up trying to assist parents locate housing and employment while also assuring that the children are still receiving an education.

Another way of offering help to the homeless community is by volunteering to tutor or do activities at a family shelter. The time spent at the shelter not only gives the children a chance to continue learning, but it also gives the parents a chance to do productive things, like fill out forms for assistance or conduct job interviews. Helping the children take interest in their education could also increase the chance that the cycle of poverty will not continue down the road.

Spare a Few Bucks

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It sounds so basic, but in the long run it can be so helpful as well. By saving a few dollars, you could help a homeless person make it through the day. By no means am I advocating that you just offer straight cash to someone who asks for it. You can never guarantee what that money would be used for. And while I tend to think that most people would use the contribution to make it to the next day, there are those that would probably take advantage of the generosity and spend it on something bad.

My recommendation would be to actually buy the food for the homeless person. If you are going in a restaurant and someone asks you for money on the way in, just buy them something to eat and hand it to them on the way out.It's truly the only way you can assure that your donation is being used in the right way. Of course, you may get sharp comments as a result of this, but I found that most people are grateful just because you took the time to help them.

Would you ever give money to a homeless person?

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Offer a Haircut or a Shave

Getting a job can be a difficult thing to do even when you have a home, but even harder to do when you do not have a place to freshen up on a regular basis. Showing up to an interview with torn clothing, unkempt hair, and days old stubble can turn off a potential employer before an interview even starts. As a result of this, many homeless individuals are already operating at a deficit when trying to find employment that will get them out of their current situation.

The final suggestion for how people can help the homeless is to offer to pay for a haircut or shave or even a new outfit for someone in need. Much like the coat drive mentioned above, there may be businesses/hair salons willing to sponsor a day where they come out to a shelter and do complimentary haircuts.

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Sharkye11 profile image

Sharkye11 4 months ago from Oklahoma

Excellent article and wonderful ideas that anyone can do! We live in a small town and while there are no people living on the streets, there are people who are always on the brink of homelessness. Just about everyone lives way below the poverty line, no matter how hard they work and often get cycled between government housing, living with relatives, shelters, and back again.

We always try to take part in any community drive or event that helps, such as food and coat drives, but it bothers me that there just isn't anything locally to help keep people from becoming homeless to begin with. As you stated, people are often only one paycheck away from losing their home, and I think that is the fragile moment when they desperately need help.

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