35 Ways to Help the Homeless
- Understand who the homeless are - Help dispel the stereotypes about the
homeless. Learn about the different reasons for homelessness, and
remember, every situation is unique.
- Educate yourself about the homeless -
A homeless person may be someone who lost their job, a runaway child, or someone with a mental illness. One of the first steps in helping people is to see them as individuals and to find out what they need.
Notice them; talk to them. Most are starved for attention.
- Respect the homeless as individuals - Give the homeless people
the same courtesy and respect you would accord your friends, your
family, your employer. Treat them as you would wish to be treated
if you needed assistance.
- Respond with kindness - We can make quite a difference in
the lives of the homeless when we respond to them, rather than ignore
or dismiss them. Try a kind word and a smile.
- Develop lists of shelters - Carry a card that lists local
shelters so you can hand them out to the homeless. You can find
shelters in your phone book.
- Buy Street Sheet - This biweekly newspaper is sold in almost
every major American city and is intended to help the homeless help
themselves. For every paper sold, the homeless earn five cents deposited
in a special savings account earmarked for rent.
- Bring food - It's as simple as taking a few extra sandwiches
when you go out. When you pass someone who asks for change, offer
him or her something to eat. If you take a lunch, pack a little
extra. When you eat at a restaurant, order something to take with
you when you leave.
- Give money - One of the most direct ways to aid the homeless
is to give money. Donations to nonprofit organizations that serve
the homeless go a long way.
- Give recyclables - In localities where there is a "bottle
law," collecting recyclable cans and bottles is often the only "job"
available to the homeless. But it is an honest job that requires
initiative. You can help by saving your recyclable bottles, cans,
and newspapers and giving them to the homeless instead of taking
them to a recycling center or leaving them out for collection. If
you live in a larger city, you may wish to leave your recyclables
outside for the homeless to pick up -- or give a bagful of cans
to a homeless person in your neighborhood.
- Donate clothing - Next time you do your spring or fall cleaning,
keep an eye out for those clothes that you no longer wear. If these
items are in good shape, gather them together and donate them to
organizations that provide housing for the homeless.
- Donate a bag of groceries - Load up a bag full of nonperishable
groceries, and donate it to a food drive in your area. If your community
doesn't have a food drive, organize one. Contact your local soup
kitchens, shelters, and homeless societies and ask what kind of
food donations they would like.
- Donate toys - Children living in shelters have few possessions
--if any-- including toys. Homeless parents have more urgent demands
on what little money they have, such as food and clothing. So often
these children have nothing to play with and little to occupy their
time. You can donate toys, books, and games to family shelters to
distribute to homeless children. For Christmas or Chanukah, ask
your friends and co-workers to buy and wrap gifts for homeless children.
- Volunteer at a shelter - Shelters thrive on the work of volunteers,
from those who sign people in, to those who serve meals, to others
who counsel the homeless on where to get social services. For the
homeless, a shelter can be as little as a place to sleep out of
the rain or as much as a step forward to self-sufficiency.
- Volunteer at a soup kitchen - Soup kitchens provide one of
the basics of life, nourishing meals for the homeless and other
disadvantaged members of the community. Volunteers generally do
much of the work, including picking up donations of food, preparing
meals, serving it, and cleaning up afterward. To volunteer your
services, contact you local soup kitchen, mobile food program, shelter,
or religious center.
- Volunteer your professional services - No matter what you
do for a living, you can help the homeless with your on-the-job
talents and skills. Those with clerical skills can train those with
little skills. Doctors, psychiatrists, counselors, and dentists
can treat the homeless in clinics. Lawyers can help with legal concerns.
The homeless' needs are bountiful -- your time and talent won't
- Volunteer your hobbies - Every one of us has something we
can give the homeless. Wherever our interests may lie -- cooking,
repairing, gardening, and photography -- we can use them for the homeless.
Through our hobbies, we can teach them useful skills, introduce
them to new avocations and perhaps point them in a new direction.
- Volunteer for follow-up programs - Some homeless people,
particularly those who have been on the street for a while, may
need help with fundamental tasks such as paying bills, balancing
a household budget, or cleaning. Follow-up programs to give the
formerly homeless further advice, counseling, and other services
- Tutor homeless children - A tutor can make all the difference.
Just having adult attention can spur children to do their best.
Many programs exist in shelters, transitional housing programs,
and schools that require interested volunteers. Or begin you own
tutor volunteer corps at your local shelter. It takes nothing more
than a little time.
- Take homeless children on trips - Frequently, the only environment
a homeless child knows is that of the street, shelters, or other
transitory housing. Outside of school -- if they attend -- these
children have little exposure to many of the simple pleasures that
most kids have. Volunteer at your local family shelter to take children
skating or to an aquarium on the weekend.
- Volunteer at battered women's shelter - Most battered women
are involved in relationships with abusive husbands or other family
members. Lacking resources and afraid of being found by their abusers,
many may have no recourse other than a shelter or life on the streets
once they leave home. Volunteers handle shelter hotlines, pick up
abused women and their children when they call, keep house, and
offer counseling. Call your local shelter for battered women to
see how you can help.
- Teach about the homeless - If you do volunteer work with
the homeless, you can become an enthusiast and extend your enthusiasm
to others. You can infect others with your own sense of devotion
by writing letters to the editor of your local paper and by pressing
housing issues at election time.
Publish shelter information - Despite all of our efforts to
spread the word about shelters, it is surprising how many people
are unaware of their own local shelters. Contact your local newspapers,
church or synagogue bulletins, or civic group?s newsletters about
the possibility of running a weekly or monthly listing of area services
available to the homeless. This could include each organization's
particular needs for volunteers, food, and other donations.
- Educate your children about the homeless - Help your children
to see the homeless as people. If you do volunteer work, take your
sons and daughters along so they can meet with homeless people and
see what can be done to help them. Volunteer as a family in a soup
kitchen or shelter. Suggest that they sort through the toys, books,
and clothes they no longer use and donate them to organizations
that assist the poor.
- Sign up your company/school - Ask your company or school
to host fund-raising events, such as raffles or craft sales and
donate the proceeds to nonprofit organizations that aid the homeless.
You can also ask your company or school to match whatever funds
you and your co-workers or friends can raise to help the homeless.
- Recruit local business - One of the easiest ways to involve
local businesses is to organize food and/or clothing drives. Contact
local organizations to find out what is needed, approach local grocery
or clothing shops about setting up containers on their premises
in which people can drop off donations, ask local businesses to
donate goods to the drive, and publicize the drive by placing announcements
in local papers and on community bulletin boards and by posting
signs and posters around your neighborhood.
- Create lists of needed donations - Call all the organizations
in your community that aid the homeless and ask them what supplies
they need on a regular basis. Make a list for each organization,
along with its address, telephone number, and the name of a contact
person. Then mail these lists to community organizations that may
wish to help with donations -- every place from religious centers
to children's organizations such as Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts.
- Play with children in a shelter - Many children in shelters
are cut off from others their own age. Shuffled from place to place,
sometimes these kids don't attend school on a regular basis, and
have no contact with other kids. Bring a little joy to their lives
by taking your children to a local shelter to play. Plan activities
such as coloring, playing with dolls, or building model cars (take
along whatever toys you'll need). Your own children will benefit
- Employ the homeless - Help Wanted - General Office Work.
Welfare recipient, parolee, ex-addict OK. Good salary, benefits.
Will train. That's the way Wildcat Service Corporations? Supported
Work Program invites the "unemployable" to learn to work and the program works! More than half the people who sign on find
permanent, well-paying jobs, often in maintenance, construction,
clerical, or security work.
- Help the homeless apply for aid - Governmental aid is available
for homeless people, but many may not know where to find it or how
to apply. Since they don't have a mailing address, governmental
agencies may not be able to reach them. You can help by directing
the homeless to intermediaries, such as homeless organizations,
that let them know what aid is available and help them to apply
for it. If you want to be an advocate or intermediary for the homeless
yourself, you can contact these organizations as well.
- Stand up for the civil rights of the homeless - In recent
elections, for example, volunteers at shelters and elsewhere helped
homeless people register to vote . . . even though they had "no
fixed address" at the moment. Some officials would not permit citizens
without a permanent address to vote.
- Join Habitat for Humanity - This Christian housing ministry builds houses for
families in danger of becoming homeless. Volunteers from the community
and Habitat homeowners erect the houses. Funding is through donations
from churches, corporations, foundations, and individuals.
- Form a transitional housing program - One of the most potent
homeless-prevention services a community can offer residents who
are in danger of eviction is a transitional housing program. These
programs help people hang on to their current residences or assist
them in finding more affordable ones. The methods include steering
people to appropriate social service and community agencies, helping
them move out of shelters, and providing funds for rent, mortgage
payments, and utilities. For information, contact the Homelessness
Information Exchange at (202) 462-7551.
- Write to corporations - Some of the largest corporations
in America have joined the battle for low-income housing. Through
the use of the tax credit or by outright grants, they are participating
with federal and state government, not-for-profit and community-based
groups to build desperately needed housing in Chicago, Cleveland,
Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and dozens of other cities. Contact various
organizations and ask them what they are doing.
- Contact your government representatives - Our legislators
rarely receive more than three visits or ten letters about any subject.
When the numbers exceed that amount, they sit up and take note.
Personal visits are the most potent. Letters are next; telephone
calls are third best. Housing issues don't come up that often, so
your public officials will listen.
- Push for state homelessness prevention programs - While states
routinely supply aid for the poor and homeless, many do not have
programs provide funds and other services to those who will lose
their homes in the immediate future unless something is done. Homelessness
comes at great financial and human cost to the families who are
evicted or foreclosed.
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