There’s never a good time to lack shelter, but the return of cold weather presents particular challenges for people experiencing homelessness. The sight of someone on the street in fall and winter compels us to make an effort to help. But it can be difficult to know how to make the greatest impact.
There are many more ways to help people experiencing homelessness beyond giving money on the street, steps that you can take to empower the organizations working to help people living on the streets long-term. Here are some of the most practical ones.
Find out who’s doing ground-level homeless services in your backyard and familiarize yourself with their locations and any special populations they serve. Then make small cards with their contact info and offer them to people you meet who are living without shelter.
Shelters are always in need of new and gently used clothes, especially personal hygiene items and socks. Share on social media that you’re making the donation and volunteer to bring over any items that others chip in.
Most homeless shelters or service organization will welcome your on-hand assistance, and in many cases they have staff members who cultivate volunteer relationships. Be honest about what you’re capable of, whether it’s one event or a regular shift at the shelter.
With social media and crowd-funding options like GoFundMe, it’s never been easier to solicit support for an organization or a cause. Don’t underestimate the power of in-person communal events like bake sales and school campaigns, though.
Politicians can dictate your community or city’s policies and funding levels for homeless services and affordable house. Take the time to learn candidates’ proposals on homelessness and the issues that lead to it, and support those who echo your values.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funds networks of homeless-serving agencies (called “continuums of care” or CoCs) in many cities. CoCs are required to conduct annual or biennial Point-in-Time Counts, where volunteer teams spread out across the city and perform a head count of homeless individuals. That number then becomes an essential data point as HUD decided future funding levels.
Unaccompanied teens experience homelessness much differently than adults do, and a different network of services addresses their specific needs. Take the time to learn about the youth shelters and homeless-services organizations in your region, and see what kinds of donations and volunteer efforts they need as well.