How many times have you seen a homeless person camped out at a busy intersection? Let me assure you that there are many more homeless in your community–those who are not sitting out on a corner, but in a shelter or a relative’s home. Someday you will probably have a personal acquaintance who finds themselves without a permanent home. Here are some practical ideas for ways you can help them. Every situation is different, so they may not need help in all areas. It’s best to be straightforward and ask what they could use help with.
- OFFER THE USE OF YOUR WASHER AND DRYER. It is extremely inconvenient to not have access to laundry equipment. A homeless person generally has a small amount of clothing and it’s important that they be able to wash it regularly. Who wants to go around wearing smelly clothing? Laundromats are generally prohibitively expensive and not always accessible.
- OFFER THE USE OF YOUR SHOWER. The simple knowledge that you’ll be able to regularly shower is a great reassurance. Even if it’s only twice a week, at least they will have a schedule for when they can get clean. It’s really dehumanizing to not even be able to clean yourself when necessary.
- OFFER YOUR HOME AS A PLACE WHERE THEY CAN RECEIVE MAIL AND MAKE PHONE CALLS. Without a permanent address, it’s incredibly difficult to receive mail. You simply fall off the grid when you don’t have an address. If the person in question doesn’t have a cell phone, the ability to make necessary phone calls from your home would be a great convenience, too. Receiving calls would also be a nice benefit, but they would probably have to camp out for a while. It’s rare to know exactly when you’ll be receiving important phone calls from caseworkers, potential employers, etc. You could offer to take messages for those important calls so that they can call back about important bits of business the next time they are at your house.
- SCHEDULE AN ENJOYABLE AND RELAXED HANG-OUT TIME IN YOUR HOME. It is a great gift to be able to spend relaxed and enjoyable time in a regular home–forgetting for a space of time that you are, in fact, homeless. If you want to schedule activities, they should be low-key and completely optional. The individual may simply want to relax, chat, read a book, or do something else that is relaxing and rejuvenating to them. Try to just treat them like another member of the family and not schedule every minute of their time.
- PROVIDE SHELTER IN INCLEMENT WEATHER. Give an open invitation, letting them know that if the weather is too cold/wet/hot/extreme, they are welcome to wait it out in your home. Would you want to be out in the elements in a blizzard or tornado? I didn’t think so.
- INCLUDE THEM IN HOLIDAY CELEBRATIONS. It’s quite depressing to be without a home during the holidays and to not be able to participate in holiday traditions. Invite the homeless in for holiday meals, caroling, opening gifts, etc. It’s a wonderful feeling to know that you haven’t been forgotten and you matter.
- HELP SECURE HOUSING AND EMPLOYMENT. It’s exhausting and difficult to get permanent housing and a job when you’re homeless. Anything you can do to help a person in this process would be appreciated. Ask them what you can do and respect their wishes. Also know that just because a person is homeless, they are not necessarily unemployed.
- OFFER CHILDCARE. This is especially important for the single parent who is homeless. They may need to go to appointments where their child is not welcome. If you are good with kids and somebody they trust, offer to watch their child while they go to appointments, etc.
- EXTEND AN OPEN INVITATION TO MEALS. Let them know that they are welcome to join you for a meal whenever they need it. It’s very easy to include an extra person in your meal by adding another side dish to make the meal go farther.
- OFFER TRANSPORTATION. Some people will have cars and some won’t. For those who do not, your offer of transportation will make appointments and errands much easier. Be clear in communicating about both of your schedules and expectations. You could ask if they want to accompany you on regular errands such as grocery shopping, etc. That way you both get your regular tasks done and it only takes a bit of extra planning.
- BECOME AN ADVOCATE FOR THE HOMELESS. Learn all you can about the state of homelessness and how to help. Educate others when the opportunity presents itself. Don’t think that somebody else will help–be the one who steps up and does something. Do what you can for the homeless in your own community!
**I did not include offering a place to sleep in this list, even though that is the most obvious tip. I wanted to suggest other options for those who are not in a position to provide sleeping space, but still want to do something helpful.