In addition to being World Mental Health Day, today is also World Homeless Day; a day to draw attention to homeless people’s needs and provide opportunities for the community to get involved in responding to homelessness.
To celebrate World Homeless Day 2013, I have decided to share thirteen ways in which you can help the homeless, most drawn from the five-years I spent as a person experiencing homelessness. This way, you have no excuse for not helping a homeless person on this most necessary (and often forgotten) of days! :)
1. Educate yourself about homelessness
One of the first – and best – things you can do to help the homeless is find out who they really are. They may be someone who has lost their job, someone who is suffering from mental health problems or someone escaping an abusive relationship. They are rarely, if ever, the stereotype of the alcoholic-junkie who has chosen to be homeless that many people continue to believe in.
2. Donate money
This can either be given directly to a homeless person, or preferably via a charitable organisation whose soul aim is to assist the homeless. This money will then be used to provide food, clothing, emergency shelter and other necessary items, all of which go a long way to helping a homeless person on a day-to-day basis.
3. Give food
If a homeless person is asking you for money for food, why not offer to buy them a sandwich or some other foodstuff instead? It is a misconception that every beggar is looking for money for alcohol or drugs, many are simply hungry and will all-too-happily take you up on your generous offer. And remember: if you offer someone a ‘big mac’ and they refuse, they may not be lying to get money out of you, they may simply be a vegetarian or someone who doesn’t like red-meat (see item 12, below)
Never underestimate the importance of a clean pair of socks or deliciously warm jacket. If you’re not comfortable donating money or food, why not donate clothing (or some new pairs of socks) to your local homeless organisation. These are items that are always required and will be most gratefully received.
5. Donate groceries
Homeless charities are always looking for donations of good quality, non-perishable foodstuffs. So why not organise a bag or box and donate them to your local food bank? Better yet, if you work for a food manufacturer, perhaps consider organising a regular donation to assist those most in need.
6. Volunteer at a soup kitchen or soup van
Virtually every major town and city in the world has a soup kitchen or van of some description. Why not take a few hours out of your week to volunteer at one (or both) of these. You’ll not only be nourishing a homeless person’s stomach, but nourishing their soul with your kindness.
7. Buy the Big Issue (or if you’re in the US, Street Sheet)
These magazines are sold by homeless people in virtually every major city. As well as being a cracking read, a percentage of every issue sold goes directly to the homeless person selling them. What could be better than that?
8. Organise a fund-raising event
Why not organise a charity event through your local school or business to help raise funds for your local homeless services. Car boot sales, raffles, trivia nights or cake stalls are always well received by the community, even more so when people know their time and money is going toward such a worthwhile cause.
9. Volunteer your services
Are you a doctor? Lawyer? Dentist? Psychiatrist? A homeless person may require some or all of these services, so why not donate your time to offer your professional services to those who are most in need of it?
10. Educate yourself as to what services are available in your area
Every town and city have organisations whose specific aim is to assist the homeless. If you were to find out where these organisation were and how they helped (i.e. whether it is with food, emergency housing, counseling etc.) you will be able to pass this on to a homeless person as and when the situation arises. Remember, just because they are homeless does not mean they are aware of all the services available to them. Some may just need a helping hand to get their life together again.
11. Don’t ignore a homeless person
Walking past a homeless person and pretending they are not there is cold, callous and shows them a complete lack of respect. Simply acknowledging their presence will be showing them a level of respect that they rarely, if ever, receive.
12. Treat a homeless person as the unique individual they are
Many people continually refer to homeless people as the homeless; a term that strips them off their uniqueness as a human being. A homeless person is just like you, your friends or family members. They have loves, passions, hopes, dreams, aspirations and everything else in between. So why not treat them as the unique and wonderful human being they are?
13. Talk to them
Quite possibly the simplest item on this list, but is still the one many people forget about. A homeless person is not only starved of food and shelter, they are also starved of human contact. The simple act of talking to them will most likely make their day in ways you couldn’t even begin to imagine! :)
A selection of other articles I’ve written about homelessness:
- Reflections on being homeless (a six part series that looks back on my time homeless)
- Twenty life lessons I learnt whilst homeless (in which I take a positive look at my homelessness)
- No home, no life, no love, no stranger singing in your name (a journal entry I wrote whilst homeless)
- World Homeless Day 2012: The day Australia forgot (my post celebrating World Homelessness Day 2012)