13 Ways to Help
People Who Are Homeless,
Especially in Wintertime
Starting with the easiest….
- Say a prayer and be ready to put it into action. BE AWARE! Be intentional. Educate yourself. Look for ways to help.
- Donate to a reputable charitable organization which helps the homeless in your area. Volunteer your time at a homeless shelter.
- Find a friend who is already reaching out to the homeless, and ask for practical advice. Shadow them.
- Always treat homeless people with respect. When you meet a homeless person who lives near you, ask and remember his or her name. You might see them again. Ask them how you can pray for them, if that is appropriate. Do not be condescending or treat them like a project. Be very careful about taking recognizable photos of individuals. They are fellow human beings. Yes, some of them go there by their own choices, but some are there through sheer bad luck. Don't be afraid to look them in the eye and shake hands.
- Get your kids involved. Ours grew up doing little acts of kindness for strangers, and now most of them are regularly involved in homeless ministry, especially now that one of my adult daughters organizes this for her church. (It's has been so fun getting on board with what she is doing! I love this!)
- Keep nutritious, non-perishable snacks and drinks in your car. My favorites: protein bars (Nature Valley from Sam's Club), nuts, juice packs, water bottles. You can hand these out individually when you see someone out with a sign, or you can package them in a brown paper bag with a napkin. I used to put in little Gospel of John booklets when I could get them for free. Now I sometimes put in a note of encouragement.
- Find out where homeless folks congregate in public in your area. A mile from our home, there is a little spot wedged between a liquor store, a vacant lot, and a bus stop. I can usually find somewhere there who needs a little help. I do not ever go into the homeless camps in the woods since it is way too dangerous.
- Buy a bag of disposable hot beverage cups with lids, some whole milk, and some hot chocolate mix. Make a big batch, put six cups in a shoebox, and take to a place where you know you can find someone on a cold or rainy day. Why whole milk? Extra calories and fat to keep them full and warm. Why the shoebox? It’s easy to hand off so they can pass it around.
- Keep extra blankets, sleeping bags, shoes, sweaters, jackets, or inexpensive plastic ponchoes in your car. Package them in plastic bags and have them ready to hand out the window. Let your friends know that you do this, so they can share what they have. Cloth tote bags and knap sacks are also helpful.
- Gather hygiene supplies and package them up in “love bags.” Give them out at a homeless outreach or donate them to a shelter. (My son-in-law’s grandmother does this and recruits lots of folks to help.)
- Buy a bunch of first aid supplies and divvy them up into zip lock baggies to make first aid kits. I have twice used this as a classroom project, once in a home school co-op and the other time in the private Christian school where I now teach. Try to include adhesive bandages with antibiotics imbedded in them, individually packaged wet wipes, individually packaged pain reliever, cough drops, etc.
- Organize a group outreach with your friends, family or fellow church members, perhaps in conjunction with an existing charitable organization. Try to do this consistently. It pays to have a regular presence. Check with local officials to see if you need permits. My daughter and her husband, with a couple dozen friends, do a monthly meal in the back parking lot of a local motel where many homeless folks live. They give out clothes and blankets, too. A lot of people come back each month.
- Remember beauty. If you are hosting a meal, get a bouquet of flowers (silk or fresh) to bring for a centerpiece. Be ready to give them away when you are done. Get a guitarist or singer to provide a bit of music.
- Remember fun for the kids: goodie bags, craft tables, activities, colorful socks, Christmas presents...
- Make a list of local organizations, with details about what services they offer to the homeless, their hours, phone number, address and web site. If you are gathering this information on the internet, call the organizations and make sure everything is still accurate. Make a bunch of copies and keep them in your car to hand out. Give more than one. Usually, a homeless person has friends who need help, too. In addition to the organizations which specifically minister to the homeless, include food banks, thrift stores, your state’s public aid agency, job assistance programs, substance abuse programs, mental health clinics, domestic violence shelters, crisis pregnancy center, churches who provide emergency shelter in bad weather, etc. I created have a list of 25 for my county, especially those within easy walking or bus distance from my target homeless population. (The list in the blog post linked below needs to be updated, and was for a more general area.)
A Few Cautions…
- Don’t ever give out your full name or your phone number or your address.
- Don’t go to unsafe places, or even anywhere when it is not in full daylight and other people are around.
- Don’t give out cash. There are so many scammers out there! (OK, I do make rare exceptions if I am pretty sure someone is on the up and up.)
- Don’t have strangers stay in your home. I know of folks who have gotten robbed and murdered while trying to help someone out this way. Instead, point them to a local shelter. Be extremely careful about even offering to give someone a ride there.
- Be very alert. If you sense any danger, get away. Some homeless folks are also mentally ill or under the influence. That does not mean they are always dangerous, but they could be.
Lots more ideas at these great web pages!
- JustGive.org - 35 Ways to Help the Homeless
- 5 Ways To Help Homeless People Living On America's Streets
- Help the Homeless - 4 Ways to Help the Homeless in Your Community
- Eight Ways to Truly Help the Homeless
- 5 Simple Ways to Help the Homeless
My other blog posts on homelessness...
Please know that I am not sharing these things to boast about what a good person I am. That is SO not my heart. I take that risk of people thinking that. My point is to raise awareness, give practical ideas, and spur you to intentional action. What are you going to do? Any other ideas for us? Leave a comment!