Seeing a person struggling with homelessness is not a very comfortable situation. Our natural response is usually to want to help our fellow human beings. Yet, after decades of stigmatizing, misrepresentation, and a worsening Homeless situation across the nation, many people feel lost on how to help, or whether they even should try. Without a clear path on what they should do, people often opt to ignore the homeless.
There are many ways for you to help, many of which won’t cost you a thing. If you are wanting to put money towards helping people, there are specific resources you should fund to help out homeless the most.
Acknowledge, Engage, and Respect Homeless People
Put yourself in the shoes of a homeless person. You lost your home, might have a mountain of debt in some form or another, have to declare bankruptcy resulting in a terrible credit score, and have nobody to turn to for help. Because you have no place to live, you start to look a little rough, and since you don’t have a shower or even a sink, your personal hygiene suffers, potentially resulting in losing your job. Everything in your life has gone wrong, and you find yourself sleeping in an alleyway and asking strangers for the bare basics to survive.
You probably would feel pretty scared, and extremely stressed. Self confidence would be at an all time low, and you would may start to resent everybody else. Other common feelings accompanying homeless can be: feeling invisible, depression, hatred, and disgust.
Instead of ignoring the homeless around you, take time to acknowledge their existence. The first step to helping is acknowledging they exist and are valid human beings. This is can be as simple as giving them a smile, looking them in the eye when they talk to you, and responding back. Even if you can’t give them money or something else, you can give them a minute of your day. Treat them like a fellow human being, give advice if you know of a local resource, and wish them a good day.
Know Your Local Organizations
Knowledge is a useful resource, and homeless people often don’t have the convenience of having easy access to the internet for a variety of reason. By understanding what organizations are nearby who help homeless people, you can assist those you meet even more than a few dollars could. You could guide them, or even transport them, to a local shelter or similar organization that can help.
Shelters, Transitional Housing, and Drop-in Centers
Depending on the area, a city may offer a wide range of emergency housing, subsidized housing, or other shelter solutions for homeless or other vulnerable populations. Know what the different types of support centers are in your area and what they specialize in.
Shelters are typically a single night solution for a place to sleep, but people have to leave first thing in the morning. They usually don’t provide other necessities, like Food, clothing, or other help, simply a place to stay for a single night.
Transitional housing gives homeless a place to get their life back in order. These can range from apartments or homes, with several homeless people living there for a short period of time. Transitional housing are meant to give people a safe place to stay while they get everything figured out, including getting a job.
Drop-in centers don’t provide housing, but do give other necessities. That includes food, water, clothing, blankets, medicine, bandages, and everything else a person might need to survive on the streets.
Food Banks, Food Pantries and Soup Kitchens
There is a whole system to help gather and distribute food to those who need it. Sometimes they are independent organizations, or operated in partnership with state or local governments. In many cases, community groups, like churches or schools, will operate their own food pantry or kitchen, and draw volunteers from their membership. Depending on your community’s needs and how you want to get involved, there may be different opportunities for you to volunteer or contribute to feeding vulnerable families near you.
Food banks gather donations and have the space to store them. They then take food and supplies to food pantries and Soup Kitchens for them to pass out. Canned food drives are often organized by, or in partnership with, local food banks, but some are equipped to take fresh or perishable foods as well.
Food pantries typically prepare and package multiple meals and are designed to serve families who struggle to afford their own groceries, but have the means to cook it. The standard is giving three days worth of food per family.
Soup kitchens are more meant to feed individuals with a warm meal. Typically, they give meals to those who lack the means of cooking food, and provide nutrition they wouldn’t otherwise get.
Free Clinics and Affordable Care Centers
Homeless people are exposed to a variety of potential health problem. This is because they often live in unsanitary environments, and may already have health problems from before they became homeless, that are now going untreated, because they can’t afford healthcare. This can lead to homeless individuals going straight to the emergency room, which is more expensive than routine care.
Free clinics and affordable care centers try their best to provide medical care and attention to those who can’t afford health insurance. Understanding where these are, what kind of volunteer opportunities they have, and how to connect vulnerable individuals with these resources could make a world of difference for a homeless person in need.
Churches, Civic Centers, and Other Support Services
Every community has its own organizations for helping those down on your luck. Local churches, civic centers, and businesses might all be trying to do their part to help. This can include running food drives, providing useful services, or advocating for the rights and representation of homeless or displaced individuals and families. Get connected with these organizations to find out how you can help.
All of the above organizations need hands helping out. This can include cooking food, setting up beds, or even your unique skills. Reach out to organizations near you and ask what they need. Even spending a few hours on the weekend helping out can make a huge difference.
You could even use your influence to coordinate even more people volunteering and helping out. Work with an organization and your work to schedule a day where coworkers help out or run a collection drive for resources.
Simply sparing a few dollars to help out can make a huge difference to a person down on their luck. If you live in an area with a high density of homeless people, you could start to carry things like: gift cards to grocery stores, water, warm clothes, nutrition bars, things they can use but aren’t likely to abuse.
Otherwise, the best way to donate is to not give money directly to homeless people, but to organizations looking to help out. Homeless people might not use the money very effectively, but places like shelter or soup kitchens will.
What Do Homeless People Need?
The biggest thing homeless people need is food. That means, in turn, that soup kitchens, food pantries, and food banks are always needing more donations. It’s not just canned food either. They need fresh foods like bread, fruits and vegetables, meats, and more.
They also need clothing, especially clothes for staying outdoors for a long time. That includes warm coats and such for winter, and lighter clothes for summer, depending on your climate.
Toiletries and hygiene products are a commonly overlooked, but needed item. Everything from hand soap, to toilet paper, to gender specific needs, are all things homeless people need. Walk into your bathroom and look around. Everything you see is something homeless people need.
Finally, things that can help homeless people get a job are all very useful. Clean clothes, the means to get around like a bus pass, a haircut and shave, and more are all things to consider for donations.
Again, work with local organizations to help out. Ask what kind of supplies they need before you just blindly donate. What they actually need might surprise you and be something you can easily donate.
Use your voice to help out those less fortunate. Advocate for homeless rights, encourage others to help out, and fight against injustices. You can post about it online, organize groups to volunteer and donate, and create a network to help homeless people.
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