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Homeless at the Holidays

Updated on November 2, 2017

As the temperatures drop and the holidays approach, feelings of goodwill and charity have a tendency to arise. For some, this means picking an “angel” off a tree and buying toys and presents for that child. For others, it can mean giving a charitable donation. Charity Navigator reports, “The year-end holidays are a time of religious and moral reflection that inspire many people to reach out to those who are in need.”

If you stop at nearly any stop light in a major city, you know that there is no shortage of those who are in need. At this time of year perhaps you’ve asked yourself, “what does he/she do when the weather turns cold?” Or maybe you have good intentions to help, but no cash to give. In the age of electronic deposits, having cash on hand can be a burden and further, maybe you feel uncomfortable giving your precious cash away not knowing where it will end up. If I give a stranger a dollar, will he/she use it to buy a wholesome, nutritious meal? Or will he/she buy drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, etc.?

I spoke with an older man, Jim*, standing at a cross street on Calliope St. in New Orleans, and asked what he does with the cash he gets. “Mostly, I buy food. But I’m also saving for a phone. It’s hard to get around without a phone.” I then asked if a person didn’t have cash, was there anything he would like to get instead. “Snacks are good. I like granola bars. And bottled water is also good.” According to Feeding America “in Louisiana, 23% of seniors, nearly one-in-four, face the threat of hunger. This ranks Louisiana as the second worst state for senior hunger.” So small gifts of food are often appreciated. Another man I approached replied enthusiastically, “Socks! I need clean socks.”

When asked what he does when the weather turns cold Jim replied that he would mostly stay in his “den”. And if it gets really cold, he goes under the bridge. “Why not go to a shelter?” I asked. “Sometimes I do. But most places only allow you to stay a couple of days. And when it is cold, a lot of the places get full.” Trying to transport not only himself but all of his worldly possessions across town can be an inconvenience. He remarked that on cold nights, having a pair of gloves would be helpful.

This holiday season -- and really all year-round -- if you are feeling charitable but also strapped for cash, I would encourage you to get creative with your giving. It doesn’t hurt to carry extra gloves, bottled water, small snacks, etc. in your car. A 6-pack of granola bars is $1.00 at the Dollar Tree. You can essentially give away 6 breakfasts for just under $0.17 per bar. Generosity and goodwill towards men doesn’t always have to be a big production. Sometimes it is the little moments that brighten someone’s day, especially this time of year.

*Name changed


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