31 Ways to Help the Homeless
- 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 be wasted.
- 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 need volunteers.
- 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 too.
- 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.
- 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.
What is the best solution for having no homeless people?
Brainstorming for or a technology based idea:
- Talk to and propose turning their website into an easy-to-use smartphone app.
- If there is a way to create an app or text messaging service or…? for people who have a phone but do not have a smartphone, that would be helpful. Programs that provide free cell phones (e.g.: people hiding from stalkers, people who lost all of their possessions, etc.) tend to hand out functional but-not-recent-technology phones. (I have never tried creating a cell phone app, so I have no idea how possible this is.)
- Talk to local shelters about creating a digital sign-in service. Most shelters require people to stand in line or sit in the lobby and wait for an opening. If one shelter doesn’t have space, then there’s no use in trying to get into another because it will already be full.
- Some kind of find-me-a-home app. This would require coordination with HUD, low income housing, local landlords, shelters and anyone else who might be connected to housing solutions (temporary or permanent). It would save time and improve housing-search options (success?) if a person could fill out the paperwork for every possible option, electronically – on a PC at the library, on a PC in a shelter, on a cell phone, etc.
- Connect with Habitat for Humanity and a crowdfunding app to create a give-me-a-home app. Just focus on raising money, identifying housing available, and connecting the two with a homeless person. Not sure how (exactly) this would work since privacy for all parties involved is important – but the ultimate objective would be to find permanent homes (not apartments) and place people in them. People can donate via the internet and homeless people can apply online and/or through local agencies or a little of both? Maybe an online app followed by an interview?
Homeless individuals need:
- Dignity & Respect
- Relationship & Community
- Employment (see also #1)
- Mental health services & other social services
Solutions to the Problem of Homelessness
Lack of a Living Wage
If people can pay for housing, they won’t be homeless. Many homeless people work for minimum wage and they just don’t earn enough to afford shelter.Minimum wages need to be realistic. A minimum wage based on actual minimum living expenses would go a long way towards solving this problem.
Unemployment and Underemployment
Without a job, many people become homeless
A relatively recent problem associated with unemployment is the practice of credit checks for hiring purposes unrelated to cash handling or finance positions. These practices make it almost impossible for someone who has gotten behind on their bills to get hired and they are behind on their bills because they are unemployed! So making these practices illegal other than when hiring for cash handling or finance positions would help unemployed people have fewer barriers to employment.
Developmental Disorders and Mental Illnesses
People with developmental disorders and mental illnesses often become homeless due to lack of a family and friend support structure and lack of treatment for their problems.There is a stigma to mental illness in America that is simply ridiculous. It leads people to ignore or put down people suffering from mental illnesses and disorders, even their own children. We could help fight the problem of homelessness by raising awareness about mental illness and developmental disorders. Once people no longer blame or shun people with those illnesses, they will be more able to be supportive towards friends and family members with mental illnesses or developmental disabilities.As an extension of that societal change, developmental disorders such as autism and ADD and treatment for mental illnesses such as depression, PTSD, phobias, and others would need to be automatically treated by professionals. The attitude that mental and developmental disorders are imaginary (or signs of character flaws, sin, or bad parenting) needs to be dispensed with so people suffering them can get well and take care of themselves whenever possible.
Sexual, Physical, and Emotional Abuse
Running away from abuse often results in homelessness. Many people become homeless due to sexual, physical, or emotional abuse.Homelessness due to sexual, physical, and emotional abuse could be reduced by providing mental health care to at-risk parents and children which could be used without having any stigma attached.
Physical Illness or Injury
How can we prevent illness and injury from causing people to become homeless?
Many people become homeless due to the fallout from a physical illness or injury. The exorbitant cost of health care, the predatory practices of health insurance companies, and medical debt are the number one causes of bankruptcy. This is a major reason why people become homeless.
Why Don’t Homeless People Use Shelters?
. No Pets Allowed
Pets are usually not allowed into shelters, so their owners often choose to sleep outside with the only friends who haven’t deserted them: their pets.
Denied Entry Due to Mental Illness
Since most workers and volunteers are not trained to distinguish between violent criminals and harmless people with mental illnesses, the tendency is to be overly cautious and refuse anyone with any mental health issues entry at some (but thankfully not all) shelters. Workers and organizations cannot be blamed for being ill-equipped to handle mentally ill clients because they simply don’t have the resources to train volunteers or workers.
Discrimination Against LGBTQ People
40% of homeless teens and youth identify as LGBT and often don’t use shelters because many of those places, like the parents who discarded them, discriminate against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people.
Fear of Contracting Parasites like Lice, Scabies, Pubic Lice, or Bedbugs
No matter how clean a facility is kept, the danger of getting parasites there is still very high. Mind you, this is not the fault of staff or organizations running shelters, it is simply a hazard of having sleeping arrangements that hundreds of people cycle through; bedbugs are now even fairly common in high end hotels.
- Hours of Operation Incompatible with Work Hours
Contrary to popular belief, many homeless people have jobs. Because check-in hours for shelters are often rigid and the process of waiting in line and checking in usually takes hours, many working poor cannot use them. Others work evening or night hours which don’t allow them to get inside before curfew. People who work from nine to five usually can’t use them, either, since by the time they get off work, it’s usually too late for them to get in line for check-in.
- Another reason some shelters are incompatible with employment is that they require people to attend AA or other drug abuse rehab classes, often held during normal work hours, every day or most days they use the facility.
- Whether they have a drug or alcohol problem or not.
- Others require those who use their services to take rudimentary job skill classes or other life-skill classes during business hours even if employed and already well-educated on those topics.
Danger of Rape or Assault
Homeless shelters and the areas around them are often hunting grounds for human predators. Some of the craftier ones get jobs at the charities while most others just watch for individuals departing in the morning or arriving in the evening. Many people avoid shelters because pretending to not be homeless (which means avoiding shelters, missions, and soup kitchens) is one of the most effective ways to avoid such predators.
Separation of Family Members
This is a biggie and it’s pretty horrible when you think about it: Most homeless shelters separate families.
Women can bring their pre-teen children into most women’s facilities, but teenage male children (as young as 13) may be required to go to a men’s shelter which they may not even get into. Can you imagine a mother leaving her young teenage son to sleep alone on the street without her protection while she sleeps inside? Most parents will not leave their children, so instead, the whole family sleeps in their car or outside.
Men and women usually cannot stay in the same place, so husbands and wives are separated, knowing their spouse might not get a bed somewhere else. These people are often elderly or disabled and depend on each other for safety and care. So again, most of them will forgo the use of temporary emergency housing so they can take care of each other.
Also, children cannot stay in the vast majority of men’s shelters. This leaves single fathers in a very difficult spot, one that is not only heartbreaking but criminal. While some may say the children should just be taken away, the homelessness is usually temporary and the loss of a parent or parents will probably affect a child more deeply than a month or so living with insecurity and discomfort.
Since many locations have signs insisting they are drug free zones, some drug users will avoid them.Still others are themselves trying to get off drugs and being around other users makes it very difficult for them to do so, so they avoid staying there while trying to kick their drug or alcohol habits.
Some Service Dogs are Barred from Entry
Service dogs, other than seeing eye and hearing assistance dogs, are sometimes denied entry to homeless facilities. Mobility dogs (that help you stand or get into your wheelchair, assist you up stairs, etc.), dogs that provide assistance for mental conditions such as anxiety or other service dogs are even more often denied entry.
- Staff Assumptions about Drug Use and Criminality Forced participation in substance abuse counseling takes time away from job searches and current employment which the average person in such a situation cannot afford, causing most employed homeless people and those actively seeking employment to avoid shelters that require it.
. Danger of Theft
Shoes are among the most commonly stolen items. Foot care is incredibly important and the loss of your only pair of shoes can be life-threatening. It can also be extremely difficult to replace them if they get stolen.
- Lack of Privacy and Fear of Crowds
Deserving of privacy or not, people with mental illnesses that cause a fear of crowds or even a fear of a moderate number of people packed into close quarters are genuinely terrified of such conditions, even in the safest of circumstances.. Unfortunately, that can make them frightening to people with PTSD, claustrophobia, social anxiety, or fear.
- Lack of Control
By the time a person is on the street, his or her life is usually already careening out of control. That feeling can be enhanced by the regimented check-in times, eating, prayer, sleep times, and check-out in a shelter. Some people stay out-of-doors so they can feel like they have some vestige of control over their own lives.
- Rules That Unfairly Endanger Disabled Individuals
Walkers, crutches, and canes are sometimes taken away from users at some organizations during check-in. Sometimes, even appliances such as leg braces are taken away for “safe keeping.So some who have need of medical appliances or mobility assisting devices forgo the use of homeless facilities.
- Lack of Available Beds
There is not enough safe, legal shelter for everyone. No matter how many people choose not to use them, there are still not nearly enough beds available for those who would like to sleep indoors despite the risks involved.
In most cities in the US, there’s space for less than 25% of the homeless people living in that city. In some cities, there is room for less than 5% of their homeless population.
An Invasive and Disrespectful Check-In Process
The check-in process in some but not all of these places is sometimes humiliating and dehumanizing.