This week’s featured story inspires us. Sarah and Al’s connection couldn’t be much more unlikely: a young college student learning the ropes of living on her own in an urban environment and a haggard, elderly homeless man. Whether you live in New York City or Altoona, Alabama, and whether you’re a homeowner in the suburbs or an urban renter, there are homeless people in your midst. On any given night, 1% of the U.S. population is homeless—but one of the most difficult things for anyone gathering data on homelessness, is the fact that many people are temporarily homeless or they’re just not documented because they’re living on friend’s couches, in cars, or they’re squatting in foreclosed homes. This Christmas, dozens of newspapers reported rising homelessness from Los Angeles to Chicago and Charleston due to the recession. So we decided to compile a list of some simple ways you can increase your awareness and share hope with the homeless around you.
1. Carry some homemade Care Kits in your car or bag. Add the following items to your next grocery list and hand them out in reusable, waterproof bags:
- A few pairs of socks and underwear
- Travel-size toiletries
- Small food items such as fruit, granola bars, instant soups
- Pre-paid phone cards and grocery gift cards
- A small card with names and locations of local homeless shelters
- An encouraging book—God Makes Lemonade is a great option!
2. Offer to buy the person a meal—you might even make a new friend this way!
3. Take down the person’s contact information (this may be a location instead of a phone number) and pass it on to a friend who might have an employment opportunity for the person.
4. Support a local organization. Food banks, shelters, after-school programs, medical services, social welfare referral programs, and soup kitchens need your support. Maybe you’re not in a place to share your financial resources, but you may be able to donate clothing, food, cars, appliances, time, or even your skills to these types of organizations. Don’t know where to start? Contact the local chapter of one of these national organizations: Salvation Army, National Coalition for the Homeless, Catholic Charities, or Habitat for Humanity.
5. Read. Gather up a few good friends or your book club to read one of these books: Under the Overpass, When Helping Hurts, Same Kinda Different As Me. You’ll be inspired by the powerful stories and tips for how you can reach out to the homeless—and imagine the power in joining up with a few of your closest friends to address homelessness in your community!
6. Keep an open heart. Live by Sarah’s example. She didn’t want her clothes smelling like old cigarettes anymore than you probably do, but if she hadn’t let her guard down just a little, she never would have had the incredible blessing of knowing Al. Sarah started with a “thank you” when Al folded her clothes—maybe you can start with a simple hello.