Question:

How can I help combat homelessness?

Take an Interest in the People

It is easy for homeless people to fall through the cracks. As a result, they spend so much of their time trying to meet their basic, physical needs that their need for friendship, intellectual stimulation, and camaraderie can often fall by the wayside. One of the ways you might be able to help out at a homeless helter is to spend time with the clients, teaching and sharing your hobbies, and finding out about and learning from their interests.

Ask the shelter about planning an evening program such as a board game night, an open mike poetry reading, a musical performance, or a holiday party. These kinds of interactions and events can help reestablish some of the creature comforts of life, and will help build self-esteem. Don't underestimate how helpful it can be to just treat people like people: it will make them more able to face the world without shame, to seek and gain employment, and escape poverty and homelessness.

Help Build or Fix up Houses or Shelters.

Homelessness and other housing issues are, in large part, a question of the quantity, quality, and accessibility of available homes. You can improve all three of these factors by helping to build or fix up affordable housing or shelters in your community.

Check with your local public housing authority, or find the nearest chapter of Habitat for Humanity (http://www.habitat.org) to find opportunities for you to really put your back into combating homelessness.

Offer Professional Skills Directly or Assist in Job tTaining

The ability to find and maintain a home is directly affected by a person's ability to find and keep a job. You can help people lay the foundation for breaking the cycle of under- and unemployment, poverty, and homelessness by offering to help with job training.

Talk with local direct service agencies to find out how you could use your skills and knowledge to help their clients build their own skill sets. You could also ask whether you could volunteer your time and skills to fulfill any of the needs of the agency itself, freeing up its staff and funds for job training.

Support the Fight Against Homelessness

Volunteering your time to work directly with people experiencing homelessness is one of the best ways to learn about homelessness and while meeting immediate needs at the same time. However, if you are more interested in donating to the cause, consider gifts-in-kind, such as food, blankets, clothing, games, books, or other items that will help make a shelter or direct service agency a war, welcoming, effective and safe place. Or, give money. Talk with people at your local homeless shelter and ask what they most need.

Remember to be patient, as many service providers are under-funded and understaffed, and staff members are focused on meeting people's basic needs or coping with emergencies. Let them know how you can help, when, and for how long, and give them time to figure out how to work you in. Also, remember that service providers need help at all times of year-not just holidays.

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