It's hard not to feel for a homeless person you see sitting on the sidewalk, but helping that individual by dropping a dollar bill into his hand isn't always the answer. Nearly half of those who are homeless suffer from addiction issues, according to the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, which means your money might not go toward food or clothing. There are better ways to help. Volunteer for an organization that makes a difference; donate time, money or items to a worthwhile cause; organize and make a difference on your own; or help through advocating and education.
Lend Your Time
Search online for an organization in your community that helps the homeless and has a need for volunteers. Suitable places to begin include shelters, food banks, charity thrift shops and churches. Shelters seek volunteers to help with clerical duties and to distribute clothing, serve meals and wash dishes. Food banks need volunteers to accept, sort and distribute food. You can also volunteer to help the homeless learn a skill; for example, if you're a carpenter, look for an organization that provides professional training to members of the homeless community, and then volunteer your time teaching your chosen vocation to those in need. Many organizations also seek volunteers with expertise to provide legal aid or medical help to the homeless.
Give Money or Items
Donations play a major role in improving the lives of the homeless. Make a financial donation to an organization that helps them. If you don't have the resources to give money, you can help in other ways. Gather non-perishable food items that are gathering dust on your shelves and, provided they aren't expired, drop them off at a food bank. Go through your closets, garage and basement to find clothing and household items that a thrift shop such as the Salvation Army or Goodwill can sell to raise funds for the homeless. You can also support shelters through donations of items such as computers, cell phones, toiletries, children's toys and household items.
Organize Something Yourself
It's possible to help the homeless community by organizing an initiative yourself. Start a food drive in your neighborhood, recruit neighbors and kids to help you and travel door to door to collect non-perishable food items to give to a food bank. Or, ask for bottles that you can return for a refund and donate those proceeds to a charitable organization. You can also assemble kits that contain basic toiletries and personal-care items and distribute the kits to homeless people yourself, or partner with an organization that performs a similar task. During the winter, include socks, blankets and cold-weather clothing with your kits.
Help Through Advocacy and Education
You can have a positive impact on the homeless community by advocating on behalf of its members. Write to your local or state government to ask for more funding or programming for those who are homeless. Send a letter to the editor of your local newspaper and attend rallies and meetings that raise awareness of the homeless issue. Educate yourself on the causes of homelessness and the issues that affect those in the homeless community, then share your findings with family, friends and colleagues. Explain the need to help those who are less fortunate, and detail the ways people can contribute.
Toronto-based journalist William McCoy has been writing since 1997, specializing in topics such as sports, nutrition and health. He serves as the Studio's sports and recreation section expert. McCoy is a journalism graduate of Ryerson University.