How to Help the Homeless
If you've ever passed a homeless person on the street, chances are that you wanted to find a way to help, a way to really make a difference.
Homelessness is a problem that isn't changing for the better. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development has estimated that, as of January 2009, there were more than 640,000 people living in shelters and on the streets. With the recent economic collapse, the number of homeless is growing steadily.
Fortunately, there are a number of ways that just one person (like you) can help the homeless get back on their feet.
Donate Food & Clothing to Shelters
Many homeless shelters are in constant need of food and clothing. Get a box and gather up non-perishable food and bring it to your local shelter. Canned food and boxed foods (like crackers) are always in need at shelters and food pantries.
Clothing items needed can range from coats and gloves for cold winter days to everyday items like shirts and socks.
If you're not sure what items are in need, stop over at the shelter and ask for a list of the items they need the most. Chances are that the shelter finds themselves in a constant short supply of a number of things. By donating an item that the shelter needs, you'll know that your donation will be put to good use.
Share a Meal
If you're going out and know that you'll be passing a homeless person, bring along a sandwich or two. You won't only be feeding the hungry, but also reminding someone that there are people out there who really care.
Some restaurants donate their leftovers to shelters. You can do your part by encouraging more restaurant owners to do this. Business owners can receive a tax deduction and can come away feeling like they've made a big difference.
Shelters aren't only in need of food and clothing. There are a number of behind-the-scenes costs including electricity, water, and cleaning supplies in order to keep a shelter up and running. Because of the limited government funding available, many shelters find themselves in constant need of money.
Many shelters have programs that help people get back on their feet. A donation of money can even go as far as providing assistance in helping homeless individuals find employment and a place to live.
Volunteer to Help
There are a number of ways you can directly help. You can get started by volunteering at a soup kitchen. At a soup kitchen, volunteers are needed for preparing meals, serving, and cleanup.
You can also help by counseling homeless people in how to receive government assistance. Many shelters need help with managing donations which include arranging pickups, cleaning and sorting incoming items, and taking inventory.
A big way to help is by putting your skills to use. If you're a professional (nurse, counselor, etc.), you can make a big difference in a shelter. You can also offer services as a way to raise awareness. For example, if you're a beautician, you can let your customers know that you donate 10% of your earnings to a local program for the homeless.
How would you help the homeless?
Contact Your Representative
If you live in an area that doesn't have programs to help the homeless (or if existing programs need more funding/help), you can do a lot by contacting your government representatives. You can meet your representative in person or by writing him or her.
If you show up at the representative's office, you might not be seen and if you write, you might not get a response (due to the huge volume of requests your representative receives.) If you don't hear back to your letters or can't be seen, keep showing up at the office and keep writing until something gets done.
Get others involved, there's strength in numbers. If you and your friends pester your representative enough, you'll get something done. Remember, the squeaky wheel gets the grease!
Let a homeless person know that you care. You can do something as simple as saying hello as you pass someone on the street. Engage him or her in small talk, even if it's just about the weather. Even if this seems like it's nothing, it lets the person know that they are still a member of society.
Homeless people are human beings with feelings. Be kind. It's not for strangers to judge how the person became homeless. The person may have an illness, just have had bad luck, or may have made bad decisions. What's important is that they get the help they need so that they can get back on their feet.
© 2012 Melanie Shebel