Top 9 Tips for Helping the Homeless

Top 9 Tips for Helping the Homeless

Homelessness may seem like a distant problem that could never affect you personally, but everyday setbacks leave many people without sufficient income or housing. In 2016, an estimated 564,708 people in the United States were homeless on an average night, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness. About 15 percent of those experiencing homelessness were people who were chronically displaced, and nearly 40,000 were veterans.

But those who have suffered personal tragedies can successfully transition back to a stable life with the kindness and support of others. Find out which simple acts of generosity could make a big difference in another person's life.

Volunteer at a Shelter

>Photo: <a href=Wikimedia Commons
The homeless often feel invisible to the public. Open your heart to people suffering through a personal crisis by volunteering at shelters, where you can see firsthand that homeless are "normal people" who shouldn't be judged. Handing out supplies, cooking meals, providing encouragement, and bringing toys or playing with children are small gestures that can make others feel less lonely and more hopeful and supported.

Donate to Food Pantries

>Photo: <a href=Flickr/U.S. Department of Agriculture
Community food banks and pantries collect fresh and canned goods to serve up warm meals at local shelters and soup kitchens. Contact local chapters to find out which foods they need most, and buy extra supplies the next time you run out for groceries.

Donate Money to Homeless Organizations

>Photo: <a href=Flickr/401(K) 2012
Donating money, clothing, or toiletries to homeless organizations can ensure that your contributions are used in the most beneficial ways. Outreach coordinators typically advise against giving money directly to homeless individuals. To make an even bigger impact, ask permission to host a collection at school or work to support a local organization.

Carry Extra Snacks and Supplies

Carry a small supply of snacks, bottled water, travel toiletries, hand wipes, or gift cards to hand out in areas where you frequently pass homeless people. These simple supplies can help them stay healthy, nourished, and hydrated. Remember that it's often easier for them to receive small items or limited quantities than large or copious, difficult-to-carry offerings.

Organize a Coat Drive

>Photo: <a href=Flickr/A Healthier Michigan

Host a coat drive to provide comfortable and durable outerwear during cold seasons. You can also make a difference, one person at a time, by carrying extra hats, socks, and gloves to offer to people you meet. Be sure to politely ask the people you encounter if they need these items first, rather than assume.

Volunteer With Habitat for Humanity

>Photo: <a href=Flickr/Official U.S. Navy Page
Habitat for Humanity proactively fights long-term homelessness by building houses for at-risk families. Volunteer with a construction team in your area and build some muscles while helping families in your community become homeowners!

Collect Recyclables

>Photo: <a href=Flickr/Steven Depolo
Collecting recyclable bottles and cans is a common way for homeless people to pay for basic needs. Check whether your area will pay for recyclables. If so, make sure your recyclables are clean and transportable before offering them to a local homeless person, or arrange to leave them in a convenient pickup spot.

Offer Food for Pets

>Photo: <a href=Flickr/
Pets provide uplifting companionship for many homeless people, who are often willing to sacrifice personal needs to care for their furry friends. Set aside a portion of your pet food to offer for their pets, and consider donating your time or money to Pets of the Homeless, an organization that offers life-saving vet services.

Refer People to Local Services

>Photo: <a href=Wikimedia Commons

Individuals and families who suddenly find themselves without housing, food, or health care are often unaware of service organizations committed to helping people in need. Carry information from shelters, community pantries, military bases, churches, and social services, so you can tell local people exactly where to go for meals, transitional housing, medical treatment, and job training.

Your time is a precious gift, and being respectful and kind toward the homeless is one of the best ways to brighten their day. However, keep your safety in mind when engaging with strangers, and avoid approaching someone having an episode. While most homeless people mean no harm, it's smart to be cautious and alert authorities to help anyone who may be a danger to themselves or others.

For more ideas on helping the homeless, find out how one 12-year-old took charge to feed people in his community.

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