Some of us are very far removed from the thought of being homeless, and completely take shelter for granted. We have each experienced difficult times in our lives, and without the help of family, friends, or strangers, could have found ourselves without a place to live. While we should always do whatever we can to help others, the holidays are a nice time to highlight this since we’re all a little more in the giving spirit.
*Writing these types of articles can be challenging for me because I realize I am writing from such a place of privilege. I feel awful even suggesting ‘simple’ and ‘easy’ things we can do to help people who are so less fortunate. We should just be helping, period. If you do have a privilege, it’s important to use it for good and to help others.*
Here are simple ways you can directly help the homeless in your community:
I can’t image how isolating and lonely it is to be homeless. Some people living on the street go days without any human interaction and basic acknowledgement of their existence. Stop and say hello. Ask how their day is going. I’ve done this and met some really cool people. You’ll often find that their story is very relatable and you might end up being the bit of humanity needed to get someone on a better path.
Buy the newspaper being sold
The newspapers go by different names in different cities. There’s Street Sheet San Francisco, Streetwise in Chicago, Real Change in Seattle. There’s something sold in almost every major city in the U.S., and are intended to help the homeless help themselves. They’re usually run by local homeless alleviation organizations, and selling them is some people’s main source of income. Articles are often written by people of the homeless community, so it’s a great way to get a different perspective about your city.
Provide a meal or a beverage
Some people are weird about giving money to someone who’s homeless, worrying that the individual will spend it on booze or drugs. Solution: provide food or a drink. If you’re on your way to the store, grab an extra drink or sandwich to give to someone you pass. Or if you see someone on your way to the store, ask if there’s anything they need. Also, if you just made food or Christmas cookies, try offering some to your homeless neighbor.
Another option to giving money is to provide essential toiletries. Examples include: toothbrush & toothpaste, mouthwash, deodorant, soap, shampoo. Or make a package with several items.
Donate something warm
Some parts of the country are so cold, and shelters can be difficult to get into. Providing someone with a blanket, hat, or jacket can actually save their life. Also, socks are one of the most requested but least donated items at shelters.
Spare change or a few bucks — anything helps. But if you don’t feel comfortable giving cash, HandUp is an awesome solution. With HandUp, you can give directly to individuals over the website. Members in need sign up through a HandUp partner in the community, and donors give directly to the members goals. The members then redeem the donations for basic needs. It’s currently only available in the SF Bay Area, Metro Detroit, and Oregon. Those in the SF Bay Area also have the option to give someone in the homeless community a HandUp Gift Card, which is not only a way to connect them to local services, but also results in face-to-face interaction.
Familiarize yourself with local services
If you’re aware of local services, you can help spread the word and refer those services to those in need. Homeless Shelter Directory contains more than 3,700 local homeless shelters and services. Put in your location and find out what’s near you – then you can not only refer them to people, you can also help the organization through donations and volunteering. In San Francisco, two of my favorite services are Glide, “a radically inclusive, just an loving community mobilized to alleviate suffering and break the cycles of poverty and marginalization,’ and Lava Mae, a mobile shower on wheels.
Respond with kindness
Do not ignore anyone. Too often people become desensitized to seeing homeless people. Passing several people asking for money is just another Tuesday. But still, do not ignore. Make a point to acknowledge everyone you pass and always respond with kindness. If you don’t have any money to give, say so. You could ask if there’s another way you could help. Just above all, don’t be a dick. You’re so fortunate and should use your privilege for good.