How to Help the Homeless Over the Holidays
Overall, 3.5 million Americans experience homelessness each year, according to the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty. These individuals don’t have homes to bundle up in during the cold weather; instead, they’re sleeping on the street, in their car, in a motel room or a community shelter. Many of them won’t get to enjoy a festive homemade meal or have the means to give gifts to their loved ones (for many, the greatest source of sadness during the winter holidays).
While it’s true the holiday season is about spending time with family and friends, it’s also about giving to others. Here are just a few ways you can help those experiencing homelessness during the holidays:
Giving food, blankets, pillows, towels and clothes directly to those experiencing homeless or to the shelters that serve them is one effective way to alleviate the suffering of the homeless.
Also, consider making and carrying around care bags with small essentials – socks, snacks, bottled water, soap, hats, gloves – so that you can give them to a homeless person you see asking for help. These bags are great to make with your kids or coworkers.
This is a simple, yet effective way to lift the spirits of those experiencing homelessness. Do you walk by those experiencing homelessness without looking at them? Stop, look them in the eye and say something. Even if it’s just “good morning,” or “I hope you have a nice day,” showing a little kindness, interest and respect can boost their morale. Better yet, a full-fledged conversation – even if it lasts just a minute or two – can help a homeless person feel respected and acknowledged. I would also say, don't be stingy with practical advice. Ask what they need and think about what resources you can share.
Educate and employ
Homelessness comes with a stigma, and an important way you can help combat the stereotypes of those experiencing homelessness is by spreading awareness of the truth.
Many people believe that those experiencing homeless are doing so because of severe mental health issues or untreated substance abuse problems. They believe those experiencing homeless are unemployable and perhaps even beyond help.
In reality, the vast majority of America’s homeless population have become homeless due to a life-altering event or bad luck, such as job loss, medical or health emergency, divorce, domestic abuse or the loss of a primary income earner. Many people get in a hole so deep that they do not know how to get out (we've all been there at one time). Someone has to show them and that someone could be you.
If you are in a position to do so, hire a homeless person to help during the busy holiday season. It's a win-win: you give them a way to earn money to buy what they need, including gifts; you don't have to go through an agency for temporary holiday help; and both of you get a boost in holiday spirits.
I overheard a conversation one time where one person said he didn't give to anyone on the street asking for money because they will probably just use it to buy drugs or alcohol (people say that all the time). The other person asked how he could be sure of this and even if this was true, how is giving this person money hurting you? Whenever I find myself not sure whether to give someone a few dollars, I ask myself that very question: How can that possibly hurt me?
It's easy to justify lending a helping hand once you know the facts. Once you know the facts, it's especially easy during the holidays when you see so many people that want what you have.
Be grateful for everything you have (not just money) over the holidays and share it with those who are without. Simply put, there are many ways to help those experiencing homelessness this holiday season....
So get out there and lend a helping hand.
Much of the above is from an excellent Shelters to Shutters blog post. The complete post is available here: https://shelterstoshutters.org/helping-the-homeless-during-the-holidays/#:~:text=Donate%20items&text=Also%2C%20consider%20making%20and%20carrying,you%20see%20asking%20for%20help