Helping the Homeless: Ways to Get Involved

Homelessness has become an ever-increasing problem for people of all ages, genders, and ethnicities. The high cost of housing, stagnant wages, mental illness, and domestic violence are just some of the reasons why a person might find themselves homeless. When a person is without a home, they face many struggles, such as finding food, keeping warm in the winter, and locating a safe place to sleep at night. To ease that struggle, there are many ways that people can help care for the homeless by using the acronym CARE.

C: Contribute

Helping the homeless isn't a simple task. It takes organization, people, and supplies to provide necessary services to people without homes. One of the most basic yet effective ways for people to help combat homelessness is to contribute things for people without homes.

  • Donate clothing. Clothes fulfill a basic need by protecting people from the elements, preserving their modesty, and helping them to maintain a sense of dignity. A lack of decent, clean clothes can bar people from activities that may improve their circumstances, such as finding employment. Before donating clothing, check with homeless shelters or other organizations that help the poor and homeless to determine what they need for the current time of year. Because the people who will receive the clothes may have a limited ability to launder them, always donate items that are clean.
  • Donate books. Books offer a source of entertainment that's portable and doesn't take up much space. Donate books for shelters to lend out or give away.
  • Create and distribute shelter cards. Write the names and locations of area shelters on cards and pass them out to homeless individuals who may not know what their shelter options are.
  • Organize a winter drive. The need for outerwear increases significantly during the colder months. People can organize winter drives with their place of work or church to collect coats, blankets, and other gear.
  • Donate used electronics. Nonprofit organizations rarely have the funds for expensive equipment that's needed for day-to-day operations. People can help by donating their used computers, printers, and/or other office machinery.
  • Make survival kits. Enlist the help of friends, church members, or coworkers to create and distribute survival kits. Fill each bag with essential items such as toothbrushes, toothpaste, bottled water, soap, and socks. Kits for women should also include feminine hygiene supplies.

Other ways that one may consider contributing to the homeless include:

  • Fundraise. There are plenty of fundraiser ideas that people can organize with the help of friends or family. Some ideas include a walk-a-thon, a coffee or doughnut sale, or even a benefit concert. Another option is to ask friends to abstain from an activity or daily habit that costs money for a period of time and then donate the saved money.
  • Give money or food. If handing out money makes one uncomfortable, consider giving a gift certificate from a restaurant or store. One can also choose to buy food and give it directly to the individuals who need it.
  • Pay for a room. Help a person or a family get a good night's sleep by paying for one or more nights at a hotel.
  • Show kindness. Although a person may be homeless, they are still people who deserve respect. An act of kindness may not prevent homelessness, but it may brighten a person's day. Give them respect, look them in the eye, and treat them the same as any other person one may encounter.

A: Advocate

Learning to advocate for positive change is crucial to ending homelessness. This means taking part in activities that will encourage government officials at the local and state levels to create policies that will help move people from the street back into housing.

  • Join an advocacy coalition. Coalitions are available on a state, local, or national level. Volunteer time, contribute financially, or do both if possible.
  • Make contact. Visit, email, or send letters to the city, state, and federal officials asking for change, and encourage family and friends to do the same. One can find contact information online or by visiting the library. The more people demand change, the more likely it is that officials will pay attention and take action.
  • Attend local meetings. Most areas have town halls or other public meetings where they address issues that pertain to the community. Being present, however, isn't enough. When attending public meetings, stand up and speak up about the need for housing programs and ways to prevent homelessness.
  • Use the media. Newspapers, television channels, and other news outlets have the unique opportunity to reach a broad audience. Contact these outlets to make them aware of issues, such as hate crimes against people who are homeless, about which they may not already know. One can even write their own article to educate people and encourage them to take action, too.
  • Help people vote. People who are currently homeless may not know how or if they can vote. Inform people of their right to vote and how voting can help implement changes that could help prevent homelessness.
  • Become an activist against criminalizing homelessness. Join groups such as Housing Not Handcuffs that are attempting to stop homeless individuals from being incarcerated because of their lack of housing.
  • Take part in National Homeless Persons' Memorial Day. Annually, Dec. 21 is a day for remembering people who have died because of homelessness. People can recognize this day in several ways, such as coordinating an event or vigil, speaking with people who are currently homeless and encouraging them to take part in any ceremonies, and making family, friends, and the media aware of the significance of the day.

R: Reach Out

Volunteering one's time is an effective way to not only help people who are currently homeless but also help others better understand the people who are affected by it. When a person reaches out to help those in need, they may choose to work directly with the people they are helping or assist in other ways that are just as effective. Because of the sheer number of people who are without a place to call home, volunteers are typically needed year-round in some capacity.

  • Work at a shelter. This is the most obvious method of volunteering one's time. Shelter work may include back office tasks, such as answering phones or sorting mail, or jobs like distributing clean clothing, serving food to families, or cleaning.
  • Help with housing. Some organizations, like Habitat for Humanity, build homes that are used to house people who are low-income and may be at risk of becoming homeless. One can reach out to these organizations and volunteer their time and skills to help fix or build homes for individuals or families.
  • Help people get work. Lack of employment is one reason why people cannot afford a place to live. One can use their experience and knowledge to help assist people in creating résumés, filling out applications, and preparing for job interviews.
  • Assist children. Being homeless can be hard on children. People who are good at interacting with children can volunteer their time to tutor or mentor kids, arrange storytime, or organize fun events for children in shelters.
  • Encourage others to volunteer. Often, people know others who have skills that could benefit those in need. By talking about the benefits of volunteering, one may influence others within their circle of acquaintance to do the same.

E: Educate

Often, people's beliefs about homelessness are based on assumptions and not facts. In order to effect change, people must be able to understand the many factors that may lead a person to homelessness. To learn more about homelessness:

  • Conduct online research. Information is readily available on the Internet. Visit the websites of organizations that are dedicated to ending homelessness, and search government websites for facts and statistics.
  • Keep up with the news. Newspapers and televised news broadcasts discuss the homelessness crisis routinely. These are simple avenues to learn more about homelessness in one's community and what is currently being done to slow its growth.
  • Educate children. Parents should take the time to explain why adults and children live on the street or in their cars instead of in homes. This helps build empathy and can inspire kids to want to help.

Further Reading