If you've ever passed a homeless person on the street, chances are that you wanted to find a way to help, a way to really make a difference.
Homelessness is a problem that isn't changing for the better. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development has estimated that, as of January 2009, there were more than 640,000 people living in shelters and on the streets. With the recent economic collapse, the number of homeless is growing steadily.
Fortunately, there are a number of ways that just one person (like you) can help the homeless get back on their feet.
Donate Food & Clothing to Shelters
Many homeless shelters are in constant need of food and clothing. Get a box and gather up non-perishable food and bring it to your local shelter. Canned food and boxed foods (like crackers) are always in need at shelters and food pantries.
Clothing items needed can range from coats and gloves for cold winter days to everyday items like shirts and socks.
If you're not sure what items are in need, stop over at the shelter and ask for a list of the items they need the most. Chances are that the shelter finds themselves in a constant short supply of a number of things. By donating an item that the shelter needs, you'll know that your donation will be put to good use.
Share a Meal
If you're going out and know that you'll be passing a homeless person, bring along a sandwich or two. You won't only be feeding the hungry, but also reminding someone that there are people out there who really care.
Some restaurants donate their leftovers to shelters. You can do your part by encouraging more restaurant owners to do this. Business owners can receive a tax deduction and can come away feeling like they've made a big difference.
Shelters aren't only in need of food and clothing. There are a number of behind-the-scenes costs including electricity, water, and cleaning supplies in order to keep a shelter up and running. Because of the limited government funding available, many shelters find themselves in constant need of money.
Many shelters have programs that help people get back on their feet. A donation of money can even go as far as providing assistance in helping homeless individuals find employment and a place to live.
Volunteer to Help
There are a number of ways you can directly help. You can get started by volunteering at a soup kitchen. At a soup kitchen, volunteers are needed for preparing meals, serving, and cleanup.
You can also help by counseling homeless people in how to receive government assistance. Many shelters need help with managing donations which include arranging pickups, cleaning and sorting incoming items, and taking inventory.
A big way to help is by putting your skills to use. If you're a professional (nurse, counselor, etc.), you can make a big difference in a shelter. You can also offer services as a way to raise awareness. For example, if you're a beautician, you can let your customers know that you donate 10% of your earnings to a local program for the homeless.
Contact Your Representative
If you live in an area that doesn't have programs to help the homeless (or if existing programs need more funding/help), you can do a lot by contacting your government representatives. You can meet your representative in person or by writing him or her.
If you show up at the representative's office, you might not be seen and if you write, you might not get a response (due to the huge volume of requests your representative receives.) If you don't hear back to your letters or can't be seen, keep showing up at the office and keep writing until something gets done.
Get others involved, there's strength in numbers. If you and your friends pester your representative enough, you'll get something done. Remember, the squeaky wheel gets the grease!
Let a homeless person know that you care. You can do something as simple as saying hello as you pass someone on the street. Engage him or her in small talk, even if it's just about the weather. Even if this seems like it's nothing, it lets the person know that they are still a member of society.
Homeless people are human beings with feelings. Be kind. It's not for strangers to judge how the person became homeless. The person may have an illness, just have had bad luck, or may have made bad decisions. What's important is that they get the help they need so that they can get back on their feet.
© 2012 Melanie Palen
JakeStanton on January 29, 2017:
Many homeless don't know help is available or they don't know where to go to get help. If you spot a homeless person that might be new to the area the best help is information to soup kitchens and food Pantry's. Not everyone has food stamps and even getting approved or obtaining the card can be a challenge.
I've been homeless off and on for 27 years. Some of my hardest times were when i was new to a city and didn't know where to find help. Offer information to a homeless person can be more valuable than a buck, especially if they are new to the area.
Internet sometimes doesn't help. Many charities have websites set up for donations but the people struggling can't figure out where to receive those donations... Information is very helpful, especially to someone that appears homeless but isn't panhandling. The homeless that suffer from too much anxiety to ask for help are the ones that need the most help.
ketage from Croatia on May 11, 2013:
If everyone gave just a little bit of a helping hand to others. The world would be a much nicer place. There are many ways to help the homeless, and I agree with your idea of encouraging the businesses around your area to contribute, it really does work. I am speaking from experience. In our community we collected literally tons of clothes and food for the homeless.
Chad Young from Corona, CA on November 28, 2012:
These are all great tips. I like to donate my time teaching them simple skills such as how to use certain programs on a computer or other skills that will help them get jobs. Give a man a fish and he can eat for a day, teach him how to fish and he'll never go hungry again.
Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent from Mississauga, ON on November 28, 2012:
This is a very useful and informative hub.
In Toronto, while going to and fro my office, I see two homeless individuals in different areas who have their dogs with them. These days the dogs are all wrapped up in quilts and blankets. I am thinking of continually donating good quality dog food to these two individuals. I have yet to figure out how to carry the bags in my computer bag, because these individuals constantly change their locations.
LaDena Campbell from Somewhere Over The Rainbow - Near Oz... on November 28, 2012:
I am always looking for ways to help the homeless...there are many homeless people that are in our town and it seems as if there are more and more each day. All of your suggestions are great.
Sheila Brown from Southern Oklahoma on November 28, 2012:
Wonderful hub! I prefer to donate my used clothing and toys to shelters rather than Salvation Army, etc. Because there are always going to be those who are not honest about being homeless or hungry, I like to give food or coats, etc., to these people. At least this way I know they are not using the money I have given them for drugs or alcohol. This is a wonderful hub! Voting up and awesome! :)
Kelly Umphenour from St. Louis, MO on November 28, 2012:
Great tips and ideas...I usually do donate clothing and I've also worked at food banks picking up and delivering huge food donations. It was fun!
Shasta Matova from USA on November 07, 2012:
These are great ideas on how to help the homeless. There are a lot of ways people can get in that situation, including being robbed or stolen, having serious medical issues, etc., and it isn't always something that they necessarily did wrong. Voted up.
Andrew Spacey from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK on August 17, 2012:
Yes the homeless need all the help they can get so it's good that you highlight some of the ways we can help as individuals. The more compassion we show the better the world becomes. But we should also try to keep up to date with the reasons behind some homelessness issues - intolerant landlords, political decisions, local failures - and try to add our bit to the debates that will always be raging.
Thank you for the hub.
Chad Young from Corona, CA on August 16, 2012:
My daughters and I help out at the family homeless shelter and the best thing you can donate to them is knowledge. My kids help in the kitchen and I work with the families to teach them skills they can use to get jobs. These people will be homeless as long as they don't have a job, the more skills they learn, the better chance they have of getting hired and making money. most homeless shelters have limits on how long you can stay so the sooner they can learn the better. Great hub as I think we need more people helping others out there.
Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on August 16, 2012:
Well put! There are ways to help that don't involve money, if you are on a tight budget yourself.
It is never appropriate to pass judgement on someone without walking the proverbial mile in their shoes.
If our legislators were forced to live by the rules they pass for the rest of us, things would change in a hurry!
Voted up & across except funny, and shared.
Stacy Harris from Hemet, Ca on August 16, 2012:
Great information... I need to link this to my homeless article that I wrote a couple weeks ago. I am not sure what kind of programs we offer here but maybe I should look into it.
Miss Kate000 on June 02, 2012:
Great article. I have never seen a homeless person where i live, but if there was i would be sure to help them. We have seen a couple when we were travelling and we gave hime $20. I have never seen anyones face light up as much as his did.
Robin Edmondson from San Francisco on May 31, 2012:
We did a HubPages team outing at a SF food kitchen and it was really eye opening. The people were incredibly kind and thankful for the help. I was a little bit nervous because I thought that the residents from SF would be a little rougher than the small town shelters where I have volunteered in the past; in fact, it was very similar. Thanks for writing this Hub; I think it's incredibly important.
LouisAlbert from Taipei on May 25, 2012:
Thank you for writing this. This is a super-important issue.
I hate to say it, but I'm a little freaked out by most of the homeless in our community. We live next to a park and there are about 20 men who live there. They're either alcoholics or have some kind of mental issue. My elder son has nightmares about them.
I'm always tempted to give them food or money, but I see them every day and don't want them to expect it.
I should ask around to see how I can help in other ways.
Thanks again for raising awareness.
kelleyward on May 23, 2012:
Melbel, fantastic hub! I use to work at the Day Center for the Homeless before I had children. Now I work in our community organizing Hustle for Hunger to raise money to support all local food banks. One of the food banks helps to raise money for schools providing backpacks full of food for kids who would have to go all weekend being food insecure. Thanks for sharing this important information! Take care, Kelley
Crystal Tatum from Georgia on May 22, 2012:
Very good suggestions.In my town, there are public donation boxes where money is collected and given to local shelters. This is an effort to cut down on pandering.
Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on May 22, 2012:
All great suggestions; I especially like the last one...show kindness! Well done my friend!
Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon from United Kingdom on May 22, 2012:
Good hub. I didn't realise there were so many ways to help.
Voted up and useful.