Knowing how to help a homeless person can sometimes feel difficult, confusing and overwhelming. The dollar you give might be used to buy drugs or alcohol. Even offering food can be a problem – imagine handing an apple to a homeless man and then discovering he has no teeth.
Just as there are many reasons people become homeless, there are also many ways to help. Understanding the leading causes of homelessness is often the best way to learn what the homeless need and how you can make a positive difference in their lives.
The chronically homeless, who often struggle with mental health or substance abuse issues, need a safe and stable living environment where they can get counseling and health care. To help them, consider volunteering at a local shelter or halfway house that provides longer-term housing. Donating clean towels, pillows and blankets can also help create a comfortable and safe living environment.
The majority of homeless youth have been kicked out of their homes or abandoned by parents or guardians. Others who left on their own accord have suffered physical and emotional abuse at the hands of their families. For many, trusting another adult or authority figure can be difficult. One of the best ways to help is to simply ask them what they need. Maybe it’s a hot meal, a warm coat or a clean pair of socks; or maybe it’s information on how to get into foster care, enroll in a drug and alcohol detox program or register for the GED. Taking the time to listen to their needs, and to follow through, can go a long way in helping them regain their trust in others and get off the streets.
For many veterans, physical disability, mental anguish and post-traumatic stress can make readjusting to civilian life very difficult. This can lead to drug and alcohol addiction, the inability to hold down a steady job and homelessness. Because many veterans have very specific needs to help them get back on their feet—job placement services, medical services, housing assistance, counseling—there are numerous ways to get involved. Consider donating your time or money to organizations which help homeless vets:
- Homeless Veteran Emergency Housing Facility
- Midwest Shelter for Homeless Veterans
- New England Shelter for Homeless Veterans
- National Coalition for Homeless Veterans
While we need to address the problem of homelessness as a whole, the more we can understand each person’s individual circumstances, the more we can help. Before making assumptions or judgments, take the time to ask some questions and do a little research. It can make all the difference.
The Face(s) of Homelessness
- Number of homeless in the United States: 610,042
- Number of chronic homeless: 109,132 (18%)
- Number of homeless youth under 18: 380,000
- Number of homeless veterans: 57,849 (9%)