Helping the Homeless Advice
Please see these links for more information on Homelessness
- The Homeless Man and His House
A short story about a typical morning for one homeless man.
- Social Problems: Homelessness in the United States
A look at a growing problem in the United States and elsewhere. The homeless are a part of the fabric of this nation and yet what to do about it?
I was reading a story written by another Hubber and I was compelled to write this. I have lived camping on a friends property before, by choice. We moved to a new area and until we could find jobs and a home, we chose to live this way. We had a tent and our van, a river flowed by and we were invited up to use their washroom, separate from the house, any time. We were not quite like these homeless people, as we did it by choice and had money coming in at the time. Most of these people do not. We had a place to camp, permission from the owner's to build a fire, and camping equipment. We were well off.
We all feel the urge to help people when we see they need help. It shows that we all care about others. The homeless are increasing in volume and this bothers many of us that have a place to call home and some stability. We want to help them in a constructive way, but many do not have any ideas on how to help. I know of several ways to help and would like to share them with you.
I would also like to point out that all homeless are not helpless or benign. A good way to help a benign one or just any of them is to ask a police officer. They will steer you clear of the ones you should stay away from and some of the officers will deliver a bag or two for you. This keeps you safe and alive. Some of them will rob you and some will just flat kill you.
Some cities and counties do not put up with homeless people. They will run them off or arrest them for vagrancy. The police can not be counted on to help you in these areas. There are always people who work among the homeless though and locating one of them is sometimes quite hard. It is worth it though when you do because they are a fount of wisdom in finding out what the people really need and how best to help them. Your route could be as easy as donating to a shelter or as complex as volunteering in one.
Food is one of the big issues. If they have no home, they do not have a refrigerator. They do not have a stove and might not have a place they can start a fire to heat their food.
This makes buying food for them difficult. Many fast food chains have gift cards for varying amounts. Buying a $5 gift card is a good way to get food for them. They can use it when they are hungry and get a hot meal or something off of the dollar menus. They will be able to sit inside for a while out of the weather while they eat. This can be very good during a thunderstorm, snowstorm, extreme cold, or extreme heat. They can get water with ice in it to cool off. They can get a cup of coffee to warm up. It gives them many things which are normal for us but a moment of luxury for them.
Going to the grocery store and picking up some non-perishable things for them to eat and drink is also a good solution. Remember, no refrigerators. Canned foods are the best. Try to find things which can be heated but can be eaten without heating. Pop-tops are good as they may not have a can opener either. Tuna, vienna sausages, crackers, fruit, any type hiking food, and canned chicken are all options. Cheese crackers, peanut butter, and more crackers. The drink mixes that go in a bottle of water to be shaken up are welcome. Do you like to drink just water all the time? Containers of nuts, dried fruit, raisins, cereals which are high in flavor, low in weight, and have a good vitamin count are also good. They can be eaten right out of the bag. Vegetable and fruit juices in small cans are welcome. We also want to try to give the basic food groups, this helps keep them healthy. When they get sick, they are more vulnerable.
Clothing which is seasonally appropriate is also appreciated. How would you like to have only a flannel shirt or thermal shirt to wear during the summer. Or a light cotton shirt in the winter. There are enough thrift shops in most towns to find something inexpensively. We also go through our clothing each year to find things which don't fit or we are just too bored with. I have a teenaged daughter who is still growing, we lose weight or gain weight. Give these clothes to people in need. Don't give too many to each person, a couple of shirts each. Spread them around, there are plenty in need and they don't have anyplace to store these things. Something to wear while they rinse something else out and let it dry is good though.
Blankets and sleeping bags are welcome. Padding to sleep on in summer and warmth to curl up in during the winter. I have bought some nice blankets at yard sales for $1. If the people know what you are doing with them, they will usually give them to you.
As seen above, shoes and socks are a big deal. Socks are relatively easy, they do not come in too many sizes and will work if too large. It is not easy to figure sizes with shoes. Too small does not work. Too large is not easy to make work. The only way I know is to ask them. That is why I work with one person.
Keeping clean is hard when you don't even have a bathroom. The needs for where these people are staying is variable. I know that if you are camping out in the woods next to a creek, you will be able to keep cleaner than if you are wandering the city streets and alleys.
Bars of soap are best for washing up. Liquid soap is really nice but it doesn't last as long. They can wash anything with it, from their faces to their clothes. It is also smaller, and lighter. Sample size bottles of shampoo, deodorant, toothpaste and whatever else you would use camping. Small hairbrushes, combs, and disposable razors. If they are clean, they do not get run out of fast food places, Wal-mart or grocery stores as fast. These are the places where they go to get out of the weather. I buy toothbrushes at dollar stores for very little. They come in big packs of 6 or 8. I package these things in baggies for convenience and ease of handing out. This also gives them a way to keep a toothbrush clean. I also package the toothbrush in another baggie inside the larger one. If you have ever had a toothbrush get the taste of soap when packaged with it, you have an idea why.
The amount that you spend is up to you. Do not get carried away or you will be in trouble. Decide on an amount that you can afford and stick to it. Many people are helping these people and it won't help anyone if you help yourself out of your home. I personally have a $10 a month limit. I just do what I can. It is appreciated by the man I help. I help the same one all the time. You may choose to help different ones. I even helped him get a job. I heard of something that he could do and tracked him down. He is now working 20 hours a week. Not as much as we could wish but it is helping. He can get to the laundromat and wash his clothes, buy some food of his own and is moving up. He is camping now, in a tent he was given, on the property of his new boss. Update: The man I was helping did so well with his job, that when an opening came up, his boss changed him to full time. He is no longer homeless and has a car. He is helping others now and helping them move off the streets.
Helping those in need is necessary in order to preserve our humanity. Help where you can but be careful and try not to get hurt. Do not sacrifice your own health, home or life to help. Seasonal help is the best help. Helping them stay clean, fed and healthy is the most important. These may be their way out. Don't give them money unless you know the person well enough to know they are not going to buy alcohol or drugs. Many will and that is why they are on the streets.
I have lately had a couple of friends point out to me that alcohol and drugs are something that people who are homeless, look forward to. Also, the street is no place to detox. I leave it up to you to decide this for yourself. The decision to give them cash, alcohol or cigarettes is a personal decision. Give it thought and see if it bothers you.
I was honored to win a HubNugget, renamed to Rising Star award for this Hub in October, 2011. I would like to thank everyone who voted for me to win this. It was a great honor and this is a worthy Hub. I hope it helps many people to help and get help.
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