Helping the homeless
Much of what we do here at More Good Deeds involves the promotion of kind acts and an awareness of how we can do good for those around us. However, thus far we haven’t really told you exactly how you can do these good deeds. Ok, some are obvious such as giving up your seat on the bus for an elderly person or helping a mother carrying her child’s buggy up a flight of stairs. Even giving to homeless people seems pretty straight forward. Or is it? Over the past few years there have been lots of articles about whether or not handing out money to homeless people is really a ‘good’ deed. If you take the sceptical view that many homeless people are struggling with addictions, then perhaps cold hard cash isn’t the way to support these people. Actually, research by Crisis in 2011 showed only 32% of homeless people had experienced addiction – admittedly high (no pun intended), but not the majority. There are other studies which show how organised crime gangs force young people to beg on the street in exchange for ‘protection’, so none of the money us do-gooders hand over actually stays with the teenager we gave it to.
Let’s be honest, this situation is fraught with problems and frankly the issue of homelessness is something we had hoped to have eradicated from civilisation long ago. However, people still end up on the streets after family arguments, relationships break downs, and tragic changes of circumstances. What happened for them to end up there is irrelevant; the fact that they need support is undeniable. So what proven ways can we help people who struggle with their lives on the streets?
This seems a no-brainer. Many homeless people sit with hand-written signs citing their hunger as a reason to give them … money. Sceptics out there believe most of this money goes towards fuelling drug or alcohol habits rather than feeding the person. An alternative and more direct way for you to help therefore is to go to a shop and buy something for them to eat. General advice is to buy soft yet nutritious food because many homeless people suffer from dental problems. Coffee or tea is also a good way to go. On a cold winter’s day, I’m sure the feeling of wrapping their hands around a hot coffee cup handed over by a stranger is truly (literally) heart-warming. Or even, if you wish, you could buy them a hot meal in a restaurant. Now, these acts of kindness obviously cost more than most of us would casually place into an upturned cap or an old coffee cup but the gratitude you would receive in return would probably be far greater too. The other obstacle to this final good deed is that, despite controversy, many restaurants will (illegally) refuse to serve someone they view to be homeless.
Food banks exist to hand out hot meals to those sleeping rough or families who are struggling to make ends meet. Consider donating some of your food to these places if you’ve over-shopped or you are going on holiday. Volunteering at one of these fantastic organisations would be more of a commitment of your time but infinitely more rewarding and would offer you the chance to actually meet and interact with people who are struggling to find some stability in their lives. Food banks, and the people who run them, are a lifeline for many.
As a side note here from an animal lover – don’t forget that many homeless people have dogs, a companion for them during the lonely hours on the street. Consider buying a tin of dog food as well as something for their owner so they don’t have to share their food.
Blankets and other essentials
Many of us feel sad and guilty at our own luck when we see someone sleeping rough during the winter, huddled against the cold. Statistics from numerous charities actually suggest that most people who sleep on the street are newly homeless. Most quickly find a bed in a shelter and move off the dangerous, cold and uncomfortable pavements and underpasses where we are used to seeing beggars. Of course, some people sleeping rough have been doing so for years and there are cities and communities around the world where the facilities available are simply not big enough to accommodate everyone who needs them.
Onto those essentials. Handing over a source of warmth such as a blanket or clothes is a wonderful sentiment. As are donations of hygiene items, first aid kits, and clean underwear. But does it help? Or does it just encourage this person to continue sleeping rough rather than seeking more stable shelter in an actual building through a charity or agency? Well, yes, it does help. For that one person you’ve done an incredibly kind thing and they’ll remember it for a long time. But at the end of the day it’s a quick fix, a temporary patch to a problem which is far larger and far more complicated than a tube of toothpaste and a hairbrush could ever attempt to solve. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a good deed, however.
If you do want to donate financially, the best and most reliable way to make sure your funds actually do good is to donate to a charity working with homeless people. You could support either a food bank or a shelter building, even a counselling program. Whatever you feel would make a difference or an area you are particularly passionate about, but by donating your money directly to those already working to combat the problem and with an existing relationship with the homeless population, your money will go further. Our advice is to donate to a local charity rather than national or international ones where small donations usually get swallowed up in (admittedly necessary) administrative fees.
Create a job
Of course, not everyone is in a position to offer an employment opportunity but for those of you who run a small business or know of a way for them to make money, why not make it happen? Most homeless people have simply had a difficult life and when offered the chance to turn it around, will work very hard to do so. If you do employ someone who has spent time on the street or in a shelter, be sure to pay them a fair wage and not to take advantage of their desperate situation. You can also support them in existing jobs such as those selling the newspapers or magazines on the street. The more people who buy them, the more the printing companies will be producing and more homeless people will be able to support themselves through this line of work.
Handing over food, blankets, money or anything else is great. But it doesn’t solve the problem. When you walk away, regardless of how kind you have been, that person is still homeless, still vulnerable, and still alone. The very best thing you can actually do for a homeless person is contact someone who can help. Whether you get hold of the number of the local shelter, charity, food bank or church (or other religious organisation), phone a local service and give them the information of where the person is so they can be found and taken somewhere safe, warm and comfortable. It’s up to you whether you tell the person sleeping rough what you intend to do. Some may be grateful for the help, others may resist. If you engage in conversation with them, you may be able to work out which reaction to expect. You may choose not to initiate contact at all and simply make the phone call. Whichever way you want to go about it, this is one of the very best things you can do for a person sleeping rough because, thanks to you, they will probably be lying in a comfortable bed that night.
If you see someone on the street whom you think needs immediate attention, call the emergency services for either an ambulance or police, depending on the situation. This is for the protection of both the person and others in the area.
How will you help?
At the end of the day there are clearly many different ways for us to help the homeless. The problem is, however, that there’s a problem in the first place. In today’s modern age, how are there still people without a roof over their heads without access to vital resources such as food and clothes? It is about this societal deprivation that a lot of charities are now becoming vocal. The law needs to change, they say. The support systems need greater funding. The mental health systems need to change. There needs to be more affordable housing. The counselling programs need to be expanded. Our governments need to step up and take responsibility for those members of society who no longer have a voice of their own. If you’re interested in becoming involved, search online for “homeless support + your local town” to find out how you can get involved.
Remember, the most important thing is that you treat anyone on the street with respect and kindness. Don’t judge them for their position and offer, if you have the time, the chance for them to speak with you, to tell you their story. Listen, find out about their support system, their family, their hopes and dreams. After all, they’re people too, just like us.
Go, do, experience. More Good Deeds.