How can I help the homeless?

From HungerHomeless.org

Homelessness is a prevalent problem, with most major cities having portions of the population that do not have any regular place to call home. In America, an estimated 3.5 million citizens spend at least some portion of the year homeless, while that number is 100 million in the world at large. This is a pervasive societal issue that conscientious citizens should try to address as much as possible. While the economy is not in the greatest shape, there are little things that each person can do to help those individuals who have no house or apartment to go home to.

One of the best things that you can do to help the homeless is to volunteer your time. If you have large chunks of free time, you might consider going on an extended trip to help build homes or otherwise serve an unusually impoverished area, but even with just a few hours a week, it is possible to make a powerful impact on those within your own community. Try signing up for a local soup kitchen; most cities have a city mission of some kind serving food to the homeless and offering temporary shelter, and many churches serve meals one or more times a week for those who cannot get a meal elsewhere.

In addition to soup kitchen, food banks can be a very good source of nourishment for people who are living on the streets. Here, they can pick up items and take them with them rather than going in to eat a meal. These food banks also rely upon volunteer help. Moreover, many of them accept food donations, particularly of unperishable goods. Giving boxes of cereal, cans of soup and other simple food items to a food bank is an easy way to give back to the city.

 

Another volunteering opportunity can be found in Habitat for Humanity, which builds very basic homes for low-income families. The people who move into these houses must meet certain criteria, including doing many hours of work on their own house; working alongside the recipients of this chance at a new life is a gratifying experience that will help dispel the myth that those who are impoverished are lazy. Many people in poverty work very hard and just have a difficult time lifting themselves out of it. Building homes in this way also builds community.

Another way to help the homeless is simply to stop and talk to them. Many homeless people are used to being treated with derision, and just making the effort to smile and reach out a helping hand may make a big difference in the day of someone who is struggling. Extending kindness doesn’t have to take much time or money. All you need to do is keep your eyes open, and when you see someone who appears to be homeless, strike up a conversation. Don’t be afraid to make eye contact. Let this person know that you are willing to be a friend. Of course, it’s best not to wander through dangerous sections of town alone. Nonetheless, if the opportunity arises, treat a homeless person just as you would any other person you might meet, and that respect is likely to be appreciated.

You can also help the homeless as individuals by making lists of resources of which they may not be aware. For instance, if your city has multiple shelters, type up the names and addresses, and you can offer them to homeless people you encounter if they are looking for a place to stay. The same goes for places that serve or distribute food or other goods. If you are a professional of some kind, you might consider offering your services. If you are a lawyer, you could offer to take a case pro bono; if you are a photographer, why not offer to take a portrait? That could be a treasured keepsake that serves as a reminder of that person’s dignity. Another great option is to serve as a tutor or a book reader to children at homeless shelters. Such children have few educational resources, and your time and attention could have a very positive impact.

Giving of yourself in various ways is valuable, but just as important as time is money. While you can give cash directly to homeless people, a better idea is to donate your money to a respected organization that distributes goods and services to the homeless. These groups will be in a much better position to serve the people who are in need and to know what items are most vital. Another way to give your money is to employ people who are homeless if you own a business of some kind. Many people in this position would love to be able to find a steady job, and just because they live on the streets does not mean that they can’t work just as hard as anyone else.

You can make donations of clothing, toys and other items to charities in town that cater to the homeless, or you can send money to reputable organizations. In many cases, they will be able to stretch your dollar into many times what it would ordinarily be worth because they have access to more inexpensive resources. If you do want to give something directly to a homeless person, it’s usually better to offer to buy food than to give cash, since many homeless people struggle with drug and alcohol abuse and being given money directly could actually perpetuate that problem. If the weather is especially cold, you might also consider walking around distributing mittens, hats or other items that will help keep these individuals warm.

Homelessness is not a problem that will go away any time soon, but it can be alleviated by people who put in the effort to reach out and help. Whether it is a donation of time, talent or money, any aid extended to the homeless will be a step in the right direction for society as a whole.



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