Help the Homeless: What You Can Do
Dec 26, 2013, 9:44 AM
A new survey from the U.S. Conference of Mayors released earlier this month found that in many U.S. cities homelessness increased by as much as 4 percent this year. The permanent solution to homelessness will require the concerted efforts of companies, communities, legislatures and individuals and includes affordable housing, jobs and economic policies and strong mental health support. That’s a lot to tackle, but there are some things individuals can do to make life a bit easier — and healthier — for homeless people in their communities.
Here are a few suggestions from online charitable giving site justGive.org, which has a full list of 35 ideas on its site:
- Buy Street Sheet or Street Sense: These biweekly newspapers are sold in almost every major American city and are intended to help the homeless help themselves by offering them economic opportunities and elevating their voices in the discussion on how to end homelessness. For every paper sold, the participants earn five cents deposited in a special savings account earmarked for rent.
- Bring food: 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 recyclables: In localities where there is a "bottle law," collecting recyclable cans and bottles is often a viable source of income for homeless people. It is an honest job that requires initiative. You can help by saving your recyclable bottles, cans, and newspapers and giving them to homeless people instead of taking them to a recycling center or leaving them out for collection (or, worse, not recycling at all!).
- 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. There are many different volunteer organizations through which you can channel your efforts.
- 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 — and are always in need of volunteers.
- 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 —from religious centers to children's organizations such as Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts.
- 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.
- Read the full list of suggestions to help the homeless from justgive.org
- Read a NewPublicHealth post on the recent U.S. Conference of Mayors report on hunger and homelessness.
This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.