6 Genuine Ways You Can Help the Homeless, Even if You Don’t Have the Cash to Spare
You wish you could help the woman standing on the corner with a cardboard sign, but you haven’t got any cash on you (or maybe it’s your personal policy not to give money away when you don’t know where it’s going). You might just not have a lot of extra money on hand, so donating to organizations online isn’t an option for you either. This doesn’t mean that you can’t make a difference in her life and the lives of other people experiencing homelessness. Here are some of the best ways to help the homeless without giving money.
- Before you eat a restaurant meal, ask the server to box up half of it and include a plastic fork. You can avoid stuffing yourself and feed someone who really needs it on your way home. There’s even an app you can use called Feeding Forward that lets you donate your leftovers to someone who’s actually hungry for them; it requires a ten pound minimum, but if you’ve had a party catered and you’ve got tons of sandwiches left, it might be the perfect way to share them.
- Help someone out by using your skills. If you’re a hairdresser, you can advertise and arrange to give free haircuts one afternoon a month (to see what a difference a haircut can make, watch this amazing video). If you’re business savvy, teach a free class about how to write a resume and apply for jobs–here’s how Streets of Hope in San Diego does it. The National Coalition for the Homeless suggests, “Direct service providers may be able to use many services and skills, including secretarial, catering, plumbing, accounting, management, carpentry, public relations, fundraising, legal, medical, dentistry, writing, child care, counseling, tutoring, or mentoring.” Don’t limit yourself! If you have a talent, you can probably use it to either directly help those experiencing homelessness or use your skills to raise money.
- Pack an extra sandwich and piece of fruit when you’re preparing your lunch for work, then give it to someone who needs it on your lunch break or on your way to work. You might enjoy doing it so much that you start making more than one additional lunch like Marcia Merrick, dubbed Kansas City’s “Mother of the Streets” (who even includes homemade cookies in the 400 lunch bags she hands out every day).
- Give away your old coats, blankets, winter gear, and sleeping bags. The winter is a terrible time to be homeless, and sleeping outside in the winter can be dangerous (not to mention absolutely miserable). If you’d like to do more than just donate your own coat, you can learn how to run your own coat drive from One Warm Coat, a nonprofit that will send you a coat drive kit and give you all the support you need along the way.
- Did you get a gift card that you don’t really need? You can give it to someone who might need it, whether it will buy them a meal at a local restaurant or some needed food and personal items at a superstore. Make sure that you give it to someone who’s within walking distance of the establishment at which the card can be redeemed, since many homeless people have no other transportation than their own two feet. Don’t have one on hand, but love this idea? Try HandUp Gift Cards, which allows you to purchase gift cards online that you’ll then receive in the mail ready to hand out. The cards will be used by people who meet with case managers who help them connect to the services they need. You’ll get an email notification when your card is used.
- Got a green thumb? Consider joining (or starting!) a garden like Katie’s Krops, a series of 100 non-profit gardens nationwide that feed the hungry. While Katie’s Krops is specifically designed for youth ages 9-16 (and their parents), you can search the web for a similar garden in your area. Most will either give you the funds to start such a garden or provide all the materials and tools you’ll need, as in the case of a community garden.
While there’s nothing wrong with handing a five dollar bill to someone begging in the subway, it’s empowering to know that you don’t have to spend a dime to start helping someone who doesn’t have a home. You can even share what you’re doing with the next person who asks you for money–and at the very least, share a smile and a wave instead of looking away.