10 Ways To Share Your Abundance With Our Homeless Friends
They’re just like you, but currently without a home. Here are some little things you can do that will have a big impact.
“It seems like they’re just scratching the surface,” my friend commented as we watched the news on Thanksgiving Day. Dozens of volunteers had gathered to serve dinner to people in need.
“Homeless people need meals every day, not just on holidays,” my friend continued. “And they have plenty of other challenges besides finding food. How do we address needs that may be falling through the cracks?”
In 2019, a local church hired me to compile a list of resources for those experiencing homelessness. As I did my research and got to know more about service organizations in the community, I learned about many personal touches we can incorporate in our individual outreach. Here are ten things you can do to make a difference in the lives of those less fortunate.
Cold bottled water
The National Health Care for the Homeless Council lists dehydration as a top threat to the homeless during the hot summer months. They spend their days sweating in the scorching sun, its heat reflected by asphalt and concrete. Not only is a bottle of cold water refreshing, but it also keeps internal organs healthy and functioning properly.
Ask, “Would you like an extra, for overnight?” They need water at night, too, when no one is around to provide.
Disposable hand warmers
Advocates say these are among the most appreciated resources you can give out. Even homeless persons who have access to a warm place to sleep are likely to find themselves out in the winter cold and wind during the daylight hours. The air-activated heat packs are inexpensive, can be bought in bulk, and provide hours of warmth for hands.
Donate your time or money to an organization providing services for the homeless
“We offer a hand up, not a handout,” is the motto of the Hospitality HUB, an organization in my hometown of Memphis, Tennessee that provides services to those experiencing homelessness. Clients of the HUB
- Receive help applying for birth certificates, state IDs, and other documentation needed for employment
- Have access to lockers where they can store personal property
- Can use Internet-connected tablets to check email and social media and fill out online job applications
- Get connected with transportation to get to job interviews and doctor appointments
- Get referrals to substance abuse counseling, mental health treatment, and job skill training
When you give a dollar to a person on the street, you never know what it will be used for; often that dollar will end up purchasing alcohol or drugs. However, when you support a service organization like the HUB, you know that your donation will be spent on needs, not habits.
Many urban areas have a church or service organization that runs a clothes closet. Clothes and shoes that allow clients to show up for job interviews properly dressed are always valued; however, oftentimes the greatest need is blue jeans. Winter coats and scarves, as well as T-shirts for summer, are excellent donations.
Clothes you donate should be clean, free of holes and stains, and should have a lot of wear left in them.
Beware of donating items that are new or expensive-looking. These items can set the wearer up as a target to be mugged. Also, there is a chance the recipient will try to sell the clothing to fund addictive habits.
Here’s a way to help that is completely random!
Go to random.org, an online random number generator, and generate a random number between 1 and 12. Now generate a random number between 1 and 31. Now you have the month (1=January, 2=February, and so on) and day you will volunteer at a local organization that feeds the homeless.
If you get the date of Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas, or Easter, try again, because kitchens will have plenty of volunteers on those days. Also, try again if you get a date like June 31 that doesn’t exist.
Instead of having the homeless come to you, go to them
In my city, there is a wonderful organization called Urban Bicycle Food Ministry. They meet twice a week in the commercial kitchen of a church, where they prepare delicious burritos filled with lots of yummy and nutritious ingredients.
Once the burritos are prepared and wrapped, they are loaded into backpacks, and volunteers ride to parts of town where the homeless frequently congregate. They ask, “Are you hungry?” and if the response is “yes,” they hand out dinner.
Volunteers can sign up for meal preparation only, bike delivery only, or both. It’s a way you can stay fit and/or get some kitchen experience to put on your resume, all while feeding those who might otherwise go without a meal. If such an organization does not exist in your city, perhaps you could consider starting one!
Caution: It’s important that you travel in groups when you do this kind of outreach.
Vouchers for a free night’s stay at the shelter
In my city, those experiencing homelessness get four free nights’ stay a month at the Union Mission. After their free nights have been used, it’s $6 a night, with one exception: Any night the low temperature is expected to be 32 degrees F/0 degrees C or below, admission is free.
Because of this, “Sir/Ma’am, I’m just trying to get money to get in the mission tonight,” is a common request on the streets of the city’s downtown area. However, there are two reasons why you should not respond to such a request with a monetary donation.
First of all, pulling out your wallet, billfold, or money clip provides an opportunity for the person to grab it and run. Not everyone who claims to be homeless actually is. You never know people’s intentions.
Second, you never know if the money will be used for shelter. The majority of times I have been approached with a request for money in my neighborhood, there has been a liquor store less than a block away. That is not a coincidence.
Contact your local shelter and find out if they sell books of passes for free nights. Handing out these rather than money ensures that the recipient will indeed spend a night with a roof over their head and in many cases, they’ll get a hot dinner and breakfast as well.
Amazon wish lists
Many shelters and agencies set up wish lists on Amazon. From the comfort of your home, you can purchase items that you know are in demand, and they will be shipped directly to the shelter.
Another reason these wish lists are great is that needs can change over time. One week, towels might be the shelter’s most desired item. The next week, it could be feminine hygiene products, and the week after, cleaning wipes. Shopping from a frequently-updated wish list takes the guesswork out of what items are the most necessary at the moment.
Put your individual skills to use
Many large cities have an annual Homeless Connect event, where volunteers offer a wide range of services.
Are you a barber? Your participation would be most helpful.
If you’re an eye doctor or dentist, it’s likely that your services would be a superb addition to such an event.
Are you an amazing salesperson? Perhaps you could volunteer to coach event participants on how to sell themselves in job interviews
Shamichael Hallman, director of the Cossitt library branch in Downtown Memphis, has had many conversations with homeless people about why they are drawn to libraries. Obviously the climate-controlled environment is inviting, and reading helps pass the time of day. However, Hallman says, the homeless offer an additional reason for being drawn to libraries:
“It’s one of the few places in town where we feel a sense of dignity and belonging.”
A great way to gauge whether a homeless person is open to a conversation is to smile, look them in the eye, and say, “Good morning.” If they respond well, engage them. If they don’t seem interested, respect their wishes, and don’t try to force conversation on them.
A library is a great place to start such a conversation. Well-lit and well-traveled outdoor areas are good places as well.
What you give to another, you give also to yourself
When you cause another to be warm, your soul will be warmed.
When you cause another to be fed, your spirit will be nourished.
When you give another their self-worth, you will find that your own value of self increases exponentially.
Whether you prefer to remain in the comfort of your desk chair or venture out into the field, whether you prefer to give your money or your time, there are many ways to provide comfort and assistance to someone temporarily without housing.
Go forth and share your abundance.