1. Don’t look away. If you notice someone who appears to be in need of a smile, give them one. If you are unable or don’t want to give someone with a sign any money, give them a friendly look and a silent blessing. It’s that simple. I have also heard of people keeping granola bars in their glove compartment to hand out at intersections.
2. Cook and serve a meal at a shelter. You’re giving a lot more than just meat and potatoes. It’s about creating community for people who may feel disenfranchised and disconnected. Diners will enjoy and be thankful for your food, but most of all, they will remember that you took the time to care. Read more.
3. Save the little bottles of toiletries from hotels and donate them to a shelter. It feels good to use your own shampoo or lotion, even when you have to share a shower. When you have to spend all day on your feet, it’s nice to be able to freshen up in a library restroom or park. Some people think that people experiencing homelessness don’t care about their appearance, but this is not what we see. Basic human pride is present at all economic levels.
4. Read to a child. Create art with them. Encourage them. Praise them. Love them. Challenge them. If you witness a child falling behind in school, investigate what you can do. Generational poverty is a huge factor contributing to the cycle of homelessness in families and education is one sure way of breaking it. You can even volunteer your time as a tutor.
5. Gather gloves, mittens, long underwear and scarves. The warmer the variety, the better. Donate these to a shelter or housing program or simply carry them around in your car and hand them out when you see someone who needs one.
6. Remember that homelessness doesn’t go away when the weather warms up. A need for blankets is replaced by a need for clean socks and t-shirts in the summer. Typically, volunteerism in the shelters goes down in the summer, so it is a great opportunity to get your feet wet. The Simpson Men’s Shelter is staffed every night of the year by volunteers (men and women). It was voted by City Pages as “The Best Way to Cleanse Your Soul.” Overnight volunteers make an incredible difference in the lives of people experiencing homelessness and are quite often the highlight of someone’s day. Try it. You’ll like it.
7. Adopt a family at holiday time. Also, remember single adults when dispensing holiday cheer. Shelters take gifts of bus cards, gift cards, gloves, anything portable that you could imagine wanting.
8. Talk to people about the issue. Brainstorm ways to help out. Join forces in your church, school, community, or neighborhood. Alone you can make a big difference. Together we can make lasting change.
9. Don’t be discouraged by what could seem to be an enormous problem. Experts in the field believe that this problem is eventually fixable. Counties and cities have stepped up with definitive plans to end homelessness in 10 years.
10. Contact your legislator. Let them know that you feel strongly that now, more than ever when the need for these services is great, that we do not cut services to people experiencing homelessness. For more ideas of how to advocate and to find out your legislator, go to the Simpson advocacy page.