Updated date:

The Best Ways To Help The Homeless

Kylyssa Shay was homeless for over a year in her youth; it lead to her activism involving homelessness. She thinks, feels, and has opinions.

Homeless man pondering a question

Homeless man pondering a question

The Very Best Way to Help is to Do Something Rather than Nothing

Homelessness is a complicated issue. It is caused by a wide array of problems, many of which feed into each other. Because people know the issue is so complex they often wonder what the best way to help homeless people is. Many people hesitate to act because they are so unsure of what to do.

I decided to take a crack at it and provide a few "best ways" for people to provide help. I'll be honest, they might not actually be the very best ways to help but, with a few ideas in hand, perhaps more people will be confident enough to take some action even if those ideas only serves as a springboard for better ones. This approach is based on my experience as a homeless person, as a person who worked with them, and who has taken people without homes into my own as well as from my research on the issue.

If you have ever wanted to do something about this serious social issue but were too overwhelmed by the complexity of it or too unsure of how best to help, read through my plan. Then find a part that you can do, any part of it at all, and just do it. Or, better yet, come up with a fantastic plan of your own and follow it. Don't forget to come back here and share what you did, too!

© 2009 Kylyssa

More Suggestions

photo by John Evans, freeimages.com

photo by John Evans, freeimages.com

Change Attitudes about Homeless People

Spread empathy, then action will follow

Starting with yourself, change the way society thinks about homeless people. Most of society has categorized them as lazy, crazy, violent, addicted criminals who choose homelessness. Much of society sees them as morally and socially inferior. It is a commonly held belief that regular, average people cannot become homeless.

The truth is that homeless people are just people, people who have had something overtake them beyond their ability (mentally, emotionally, financially, physically) to cope with.

The only way to fight the societal stereotype of them as lesser life forms is to educate. To do this, more people need to be exposed to the realities of homelessness - its causes, its horrors, its nearness to them, and the stories and faces of the people without homes. To help this process, learn as much as you can about the issue and talk about it wherever you can, write about, think about it, and take action.

photo by Sanja Gjenero, freeimages.com

photo by Sanja Gjenero, freeimages.com

Become Friends with Someone Living on the Street

Begin to repair the lack of a friend and family support structure

You probably feel pretty sure your friends and family would help you if you were to be in danger of homelessness. You'd also be pretty motivated to help a friend or family member of yours, wouldn't you?

Those who lose their homes often entirely lack the support structure that most of us usually take for granted. They often become homeless because they can't deal with a crisis, something people with good, strong family and friend support structures are far better equipped to handle. For example, an elderly man with a strong friend and family support structure probably wouldn't become homeless if his roommate died leaving him with rent too high to pay with his Social Security income but the same man, without the help from family and friends likely would.

You can help rebuild or create a new friend/family support structure when you befriend someone who badly needs a friend. You can also learn how to strengthen your own support structure through this process. Begin with your friendship and encourage your homeless friend to partake in activities and social groups. One of the things you can do with the biggest impact is to help him reconnect with family and friends and give him emotional support. Nothing gives a person hope like the love of a friend and family can sometimes be convinced to care.

photo by Jello Fishy, freeimages.com

photo by Jello Fishy, freeimages.com

Give What You Can

Give money, necessities, time, knowledge, labor, friendship, or simply acknowledgement

Like everyone else, those who live on the street have many needs. The difference is that many of them are unable to meet their needs themselves. So they need a hand and there's no reason that that hand can't be mine or yours. Who else is going to step up to the plate if we don't?

Donate to charities, whether you donate time, knowledge or money, it all helps. Give directly to people out on the street - friendship, small gifts of necessities, help in finding a job or filling out assistance paperwork - all of this helps. Invite others to do the same.

You can learn more ways to make a difference without spending money at How to Help the Homeless without Spending a Dime. You can find ideas on what you can give directly to that will be both appreciated and helpful at What to Buy if You are Homeless. Thank you for caring.

photo by Michael Slonecker, SXC

photo by Michael Slonecker, SXC

Push for Change

Homelessness is symptomatic of problems within our society

Homelessness is not a disease, it is a symptom. To combat this illness of our society, we need to speak.

Research the laws and ordinances in your area. Many people are hindered in their fight to escape the streets by laws, laws that make homelessness itself a crime and prevent future employment, laws that prevent charities and others who wish to provide services from helping them effectively, there are laws that allow employers to pay insufficient wages, and there are laws that allow creditors to garnish debtors into poverty. Find out what unjust laws exist in your area and in your country and then speak out.

And keep an eye on health care reform because the number one cause of bankruptcy in America is medical bills. No person or family should have to lose a home due to illness.

Get Involved

The only way to help homeless people is to get involved and do something

There probably isn't really a "best way" to help homeless people. But any way which people get involved and actually do something about poverty, hunger, and housing insecurity in their culture, their country, their city, or their home is a good and useful thing. So don't worry about what the best way to help homeless people is, worry about them instead.

Even if all you do is change your attitudes, every bit helps.

Can One Person Make a Difference in a Problem as Big as Homelessness?

© 2009 Kylyssa Shay

What do you think is the best way to help homeless people?

Kylyssa Shay (author) from Overlooking a meadow near Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA on December 09, 2015:

Thank you for reading. I'm also glad that more and more people are speaking out and spreading awareness.

maggs224 from Sunny Spain on December 09, 2015:

A really excellent article followed by many excellent comments. I am glad that the internet has made it possible for articles like this to reach people all around the world. Hopefully articles like this will help to break down the walls that the media and stereotypes have built. Like you have so eloquently written homelessness is a complex issue. You are so right it is a symptom not a disease. Thankfully there are more and more articles that are being written that are opening peoples eyes and causing empathy rather than apathy. Well done I am glad that I came and read this :D Maggs

AdeleMC on July 08, 2013:

I am getting involved with supporting the BIG program. Basic Income Guaranteed by Equal Life Foundation. They are on facebook. This would insure that we all have the basics needs of life - that should be a right for everyone. Thanks so much for your lens about these problems

Cynthia Haltom from Diamondhead on May 22, 2013:

Your right homelessness comes for many reason. I was homeless for a while after hurricane Katrina, I had a hard time accepting food and water without paying for it. There were so many that help me. I want to help the people of Oklahoma. Many will remain homeless for a long time.

opatoday on April 11, 2013:

Discover a way to revive hope, work on a step by step plan of escape that is doable starting with 0 money and your lens is the perfect start, some homeless are people who were just a paycheck away from homelessness and didn't get that check and now need a path back, Your lucky break was 100 bucks do you realize just that info could save people from a lifetime of despair.Your story gives hope and hope is the first ingredient of success.

CreativeExpress on December 09, 2012:

Thank you for sharing your experience, strength, and hope regarding the critical issue of homelessness. (I've read several of your lenses.) You have helped this cause greatly with your writing, since it has given homeless people a voice. One way we can help a homeless person who crosses our paths is to humanize the encounters. We can extend dignity by speaking a simple,kind greeting; looking them in the eye, striking up a conversation at a bus stop, giving them the same courtesy to move ahead in line that we'd give to anyone else, etc. There is power in extending kindness when someone else is hurting.

anonymous on August 19, 2012:

I believe it only takes one person to make a difference- im only 14 but i am intelligent and kind, and i believe one idea shared throughout many numbers of people whom share the same interests. I am going south to a community in the arctic- there are many people down there that are homeless and i plan on helping out starting with friends and family- but not many are supportive about this idea. However i was hoping maybe a few of you had any simple easy ideas about how and what i could do- i was planning on a pica-nick at a close grassy area- but if anyone else has any cool interesting idea, please share with me so i can help people with getting jobs, getting help, and finding someone who may be simply a friendThanks you hannah

Onemargaret LM on July 15, 2012:

Great job! Homelessness is definitely a huge problem, especially in this economy!

playercoach on June 27, 2012:

I liked both of your lenses. Bless you on your journey!

anonymous on June 03, 2012:

become there friend

anonymous on May 12, 2012:

I was struck by your statement to spread empathy for those that are homeless, it certainly will have a positive effect over apathy which we seem to fall into, May we see individuals with a need for a support structure, that is such an important consideration and made me think about the difference it can make in a life. Another excellent article by you!

anonymous on April 17, 2012:

Homes for the Homeless by Bill Kaysing is now availlable.http://billkaysing.com/downloads.phpthanks

anonymous on April 15, 2012:

Great comment Tamara. The problem needs to be tackled at the grass roots. Simply giving money is not the answer. Things like community dinners where everyone is welcome to come and enjoy a free meal, is a great opportunity for community members to get to know each other and helps people to be aware of issues in society.

anonymous on April 15, 2012:

I think we have to tackle the the problem at its roots- the causes. We need to change the system to one who's main aim is humanity, rather than money. In the meantime, we should make concrete demands- that money, rather than being spent on war, advertising, cosmetics, bailing out banks- is spent on universal health care, education, public housing, public works and employment, culture etc

writerkath on April 13, 2012:

Beautiful series of lenses... I'm going back to bless every one I can find. You are courageous and inspirational. Thank you. :)

misslivzy on April 06, 2012:

Thank you for sharing your posts. It takes a lot of courage to write about challenges that we go through. You are an inspiration, not only for coming through your experience and getting a career, but also now for being willing to educate people about homelessness. Yes, the problem of homelessness is a challenging issue. While many of us would like to help it is not that easy. Having volunteered with the Red Cross NZ, I have become skeptical of giving homeless people money. In Kuwait professional beggars some earned 1000kd up to a day (5000 dollars). I have observed beggars trying to sell the food that I have bought for them. I was even attacked by beggars while I was in Southeast Asia, because I bought some baby milk powder (again another scam) for some kids. I enjoyed reading your articles- however it's not that many of us don't want to help. Many of us want to help, but when we try to help, we have it thrown back in our face.Again, I do not want to take away from your experience, as I am grateful that you have shared your articles, but there are reasons why people have stopped trying to help.

Ann Hinds from So Cal on March 30, 2012:

State and federal programs miss many who need help. I think that on an individual level, everyone can make a difference. When we have it, we donate food, money and clothes although someitmes, we take it to individuals who seem to need it more.

equilibria on March 26, 2012:

Have never been homeless as in living in the ROUGH but I have been homeless staying with friends until I was able to get a job and save enough money to get my own place and EVEN THAT was pretty bad. Great lens and I like how you've linked to other similar lenses you've made. Been on here about an hour reading through it all. That in and of itself is doing something.

anonymous on March 02, 2012:

Im here to tell you folks helping the homeless programs in my state are a joke to say the least they put stupid clauses in there like you must be handicap or disabled or be a youth to get any type of help all this grant money being allocated to help the homeless is a crime in its self because the homeless are not being helped in my state the money is lining the pockets of the greedy these wrong doers go thru the motions and jump hoops in order to get grant money and do what god only knows with the money theres a whole network of greedy bastards sidestepping the homeless. someone needs to investicate the whole system but that wont happen because no one gives a rats ass about the homeless.to many higher ups giving out hush money. no wonder this world gone to hell in a hand basket GREED all because of greed.

ifuturz on February 01, 2012:

Yes It is such a big problem

sherioz on January 23, 2012:

It is such a huge problem as to seem insurmountable. But, as reading your lenses show, each individual homeless person is a whole world unto him/herself. If we look at the problem as being one of homelessness in general, it is too big. But if we look at "this particular homeless person", then we CAN help. I value your lenses. You have taken a huge anonymous problem and put a face to it, made it personal. There was a piece on the Israel news last night about a man with a small apartment who took 3 homeless men into his home and they are living in his livingroom. These 3 have jobs. It is such a huge problem.

hlkljgk from Western Mass on January 03, 2012:

well, i think they need assistance in managing the reason for becoming homeless to become most successful at long term reintigration. thanks for these ideas.

sponias lm on December 26, 2011:

Everyone can help the homeless through generosity. This is a meaningful lens!

anonymous on December 02, 2011:

I just became homeless. I work a full time job and have a full set of mountaineering gear minus crampons and snow shoes. It's illegal for me to sleep in my car and the nearest national forest is 60 miles away. Homeless people have very few options, shelters are a joke and tent cities are humiliating. Something needs to change.

Gayle from McLaughlin on November 28, 2011:

What a provocative and sensitive article from someone who has been there! Squid Angel Blessed

Kylyssa Shay (author) from Overlooking a meadow near Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA on November 15, 2011:

@hamshi5433: I really doubt that providing services to homeless people will cause people to choose to be homeless. The average American homeless woman will be raped by her eleventh day of homelessness. I doubt anyone sane would decide that a cot with bedbugs and a meal of substandard food you have to stand in line all day to get is worth getting raped, beaten, and routinely humiliated for.

hamshi5433 on November 11, 2011:

There are care homes for elderly/disabled people, there are care homes for children, it will be nice to have them for homeless people too [at least temporary] until they manage to get a job or something that will stop them from being homeless. Free or Cheap education/shelter/food for the homeless would be great but then it will cause people to become lazy and homeless for the sake of receiving free care/food etc. This is one of the main reasons why real homeless people receive few or no attention at all.

anonymous on September 30, 2011:

Sometimes If I stop to eat at a restaurant or I stop by WalMart I get about 5 Gift Cards and put like $80 on them that way When I see A homeless person I can give them free food and some other things they need and I know I'm helping just that little bit and if other people would do it to I know the world would change.

Kylyssa Shay (author) from Overlooking a meadow near Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA on September 18, 2011:

@poutine: I wish there were a "like" button for comments! Affordable housing is way too rare.

poutine on September 18, 2011:

I think that there should be more affordable renting units for families who can barely make it, so they wouldn't become homeless

David Dove on September 03, 2011:

Engage with them, they are not aliens and a friendly voice goes a long way, it's a start.

rootadesigns lm on August 28, 2011:

Thank you for posting this lens!

anonymous on April 12, 2011:

I do like your thoughts. A friend of mine, Ozair Rao, did exactly what you advise, and he captured some of what he is doing on Youtube. I hope you mind if I share it with you and your readers: http://www.techistan.com/2011/03/31/enable-a-begga...

anonymous on April 12, 2011:

@aesta1: I have three sons 2 of which have been on the streets forever...I try to guide and help and support them, but I can barely keep myself afloat. It drives my brain crazy trying to figure out what to do to get them on the right track. If your addicted and have been this way for more then half your life what or where ecan they get help before it's too late. Reading Pa They are sweet men kind, caring and giving. Just not giving themselves a purpose...I feel for all the homeless and the poor,with the cost of just bread,milk, and gas an 8.00 ph job won't even put a roof over your head let alone feed you. Sorry, just frustrated with the system and those with so much that could do more to help the little guy.

anonymous on March 09, 2011:

I took at service-learning course in college that was entirely on the social issue of homelessness. I can not begin to describe the impact it had on my view of the whole situation. I went from being very naïve about homelessness to truly caring. It is a very very complicated problem and in economic times like what we are in, it makes it all the more harder to solve. Not every homeless person's situation is the same and not every homeless person thinks the same way, just as you and I. We can still make a change though, even if it's just a small one. Befriending homeless people and helping them here and there with food, maybe a small amount of money, and a good laugh can go a long way. I know many homeless people are scary and often smell bad, but you would look the same way if you ended up on the street because of something outside your control. I am asking that you think twice next time when you feel that feeling of repulsion and doubt when you encounter a homeless person...instead....try just saying hello, how are you?

Kylyssa Shay (author) from Overlooking a meadow near Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA on December 11, 2010:

@anonymous: What kind of psychotherapy has he been through? Most people can't cure themselves of mental health issues and thus need some kind of ongoing mental health care to dig their way out. Is it possible he has PTSD from being in the military? Even basic training works by mentally and emotionally breaking a person and destroying his feeling of self-worth so he can obey orders instantly even if those orders are, in his mind, immoral.

anonymous on December 11, 2010:

Thank you so much for helping others see a way out of homelessness and for trying to decrease the stigma that keeps the homeless trapped in that way of life!!!!!!!!!! I have some experience in this area and I wish more people could spread the word!!! I have a brother, 26 (I am a year younger than him) who has been homeless for 5 years (since going AWOL out of the military) and I have been ever faithfully trying to help him. All I can say about it, is homelessness for some young people who have psychosocial issues that prevent them from being able to function, ie hold down a job, also creates an addiction to homelessness because they have no self esteem. And sadly I think many people cannot get out of homelessness because of this. Even though we have a place for him to live, and a job ready for him each time he says he wants to change....the littlest failures send him right back over the edge because it is more than he can stand emotionally and for him it is easier to be homeless because you cannot fail at it....There is no such thing as being bad at being homeless, and there is no wrong way to do it. Because of these long standing self esteem issues I don't think he can believe in his own greatness...I can't wait for the day he can finally realize his potential.

thesuccess2 on November 15, 2010:

Kylyssa keep doing your good stuff

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on October 24, 2010:

It is good to hear from someone who has experienced being homeless. Thanks for sharing.

anonymous on October 11, 2010:

I grew up rural poor, and landed in Oakland in the early 90's, where you can't really help but get to know the local varieties of homeless, from the old vets to the released mental health victims to the gutter punks and the single parents...and I think the biggest thing I learned from them was that I knew way more than I thought I did. I knew a plum tree when I saw one, for starters - and I saw hungry people walk through an abandoned lot right past one. I knew how to thread a needle, I knew how to start a safe fire, and I knew how to ask the nice Korean gent who had a little restaurant if I could sweep floors or do the trash or SOMETHING in exchange for a breakfast burrito...which would feed three people in a pinch. Because we all shared what we had, I learned several new crafts, how to navigate public transportation, where the dental clinic was...and that there's a heart breaking dignity to be found in people, if you stop and listen. thank you for the reminder.

GreenLink on May 17, 2010:

I just first want to say that I am happy you were granted the gift of the pen because it is SO important to have as much awareness out as possible.I think one thing I would emphasize would be recognizing the difference between panhandlers and homeless invididuals. The thing is, I have seen men and women and such young people panhandling and I've noticed something of a pressure source usually hanging around checking up on what profits are being made for the day. Drugs are easy to fall into when you have people around you who have lost hope and turn to artificial love and complacency.I've done things like collect abandoned clothing (especially in the winter) hand them in to shelters or centers for Homeless people to take advantage of.I'm coming at this from a Canadian perspective, and luckily the medical system set in place allows for more wiggle room, but a lot of homeless people who not only deal with being poverty stricken, but also suffer from a disability that prevents them from being able to adequately take care of themselves enough to function normally in society.Plus, prescriptions only last so long, and can so easily be misused for quick money, as well as just not being able to deal with strict regiments that such prescriptions require for effectiveness.Thank you for being strong and honest and intelligent, and showing people the reality of what having no place to go to and/or no one to rely on, really means.Thank you;

Kylyssa Shay (author) from Overlooking a meadow near Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA on May 04, 2010:

@tysanders: I appreciate you taking the time to learn more about the homelessness issue.Many people don't take the time. And many people are surprised to learn that many homeless people do have jobs. Some just can't earn enough to scrape up first and last month's rent plus a security deposit or even pass the credit check many apartment complexes require. Or they may be getting their wages garnished to pay off student loans, child support, or the home loan they've defaulted on.

tysanders on April 15, 2010:

Thank you for writing this and sharing your experiences. I never give money to homeless people because I always felt that they could get a job working somewhere, even if it's the nearest McDonalds or closest gas station. Reading your blogs has helped me change my way of thinking. I never considered the idea that some homeless people are so down and out emotionally that they lack the hope and motivation necessary to even fill out an application for employment, more less work a job. This really opened my eyes and again. Saying thank you isn't enough.

justholidays on December 27, 2009:

What a wonderful lens, once again, Kylyssa! Other topics seem so... superficial when one reads our pages.

pkmcr from Cheshire UK on December 26, 2009:

The work you do in promoting awareness of the homeless is amazing. I have blessed a number of your lenses over recent months and I just dropped by to say this lens has also been Blessed by a Squid Angel :-)

mmmanning on December 23, 2009:

Great share...from the heart! (from footloose)

ToniCorset on December 20, 2009:

I'm moved by this lens, and the presentation is superb. 5*

Bambi Watson on December 20, 2009:

Wonderful lens!Blessed by an Angel!

KarenTBTEN on December 20, 2009:

A lot of good information here. You've done a good job countering some stereotypes and providing links for people to follow and get more information.

Kate Phizackerl1 on December 20, 2009:

Excellent lens

NewPlan on December 20, 2009:

very good content to make people aware of those less fortunate. Nice job

Deb Kingsbury from Flagstaff, Arizona on December 20, 2009:

Very well done!