How to help those without a home

Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless.

Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help.

“Helping the Homeless” is not always as simple as it sounds. This is because homelessness comes from a complicated mix of reasons, including: physical or developmental disabilities, racial inequality, mental illness, or drug addiction. Although, as individuals, we may not be able to solve homelessness, as followers of Christ we have a responsibility to share Christ’s love (Luke 6:27-36).

My interest in helping this population began when I was 16. I had a high school co-op in a local community center with a dietician. It was located in a downtown area and I took a city bus from my school to the bus terminal and walked about 15 minutes from there to the community center. On that 15-minute walk I saw many people day after day that spent their day on the streets. 

Now, some of you may be thinking: How safe was it for you to be walking in that area alone? That is a common fear that many people have about people who are homeless. Although, at first my walk from the terminal put me on edge, over time I became friendly with several of the people on my way. Sometimes sharing my lunch with them and other times just a smile. 

With the dietician, we would host open community kitchens and I would see some of them come in and learn to cook with us. We would also go to shelters and teach people how to make food on a budget. Looking back, that was the beginning of how outreach became a fundamental part of my faith: “I was thirsty and you gave me a drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Matthew 25:36,RSV).

Just last year, my city instituted a security taskforce to keep homeless people off of private property,in hopes of reducing crime in the city. Although I do not still work in the community center, I do see its effects as I work doing COVID-19 door screening at the farmers market down the street. People who don’t have stable shelter are now pushed around the city as the security forces tell them that they need to leave. Put yourselves in their shoes for a minute: How does the constant movement affect your mental health? Where would you go if city and private property including parks were off limits?  These are just some of the things that affect those without shelter in my area. It can be so helpful to know what our neighbours are needing so that we know best how to help them.

So, how can you help people who are living unsheltered?

  1. Learn about homelessness and the specific problems that people in your area are facing. This can be done by doing research, reaching out to a local charity, or making connections with the people you see on the streets. The more concrete facts you have about homelessness the better. Ultimately, they are all people that deserve respect and not pity, fear, or ignorance.
  2. Spread Awareness: Share your learning with others and organize events to help people in need! For example, a fund-raiser at your ecclesial hall for a local homeless shelter.
  3. Avoid giving money as this can fuel problems. Alternatively, carry some food vouchers in your purse – for places like Mcdonalds, Subway, Taco Bell or Starbucks. When you see a homeless person, you can then offer a voucher to at least make sure that the person has a meal. 
  4. If you are approached by someone who asks you to help them find shelter, a good rule of thumb is to phone 211 (see: https://www.helplinecenter.org/2-1-1-community-resources/). This service will help you to signpost people to local help.
  5. Just spend five minutes listening and talking to the person without judgement, to make them feel visible and valued. If they are near a grocery store where you are going to shop, ask if they need anything.
  6. Donate:
    • Time: Volunteer with a charity that helps people in need such as a food back, homeless shelter, or community garden;
    • Money: Donate to a local charity or use your money to create kits for those in need. If you’d like to make up care packs, here are some instructions on how to do that. There is also an opportunity of having a grant from The Garden to help you: https://thegardenoutreach.org/boxes-of-love-care-packs/ 
    • Clothing: Investigate donating clothes to your local shelter. Interview attire can be very helpful for those looking to get into the workforce. Also, if you live in a cold climate boots and other cold weather clothing is in high demand;
    • Hygiene Items: Donate items to a shelter to give to their clients;
    • Food: Donate food to a local food bank or pantry .