For the Homeless There’s No Place Like Shelter

Homelessness Needs a Solution, Volunteers are Part of It

A nice fire, hot cocoa, popcorn and a DVD on TV – these are the reasons many people enjoy winter. Yet, for homeless people, winter is a time of extreme hardship.

There are three main types of homelessness: chronic, temporary or transitional, and episodic. This article focuses mainly on temporarily homeless and how to help homeless charities.

Common Misconceptions About the Homeless

During the downturn of the U.S. and world economies, catastrophic events have resulted in more and more middle-class citizens living out of their cars. Contrary to popular belief, many homeless people have jobs. They may have maxed-out credit cards and checking accounts but cannot afford to pay a deposit plus the first month’s rent that most landlords require.

Temporary homelessness is more common than chronic homelessness which is often a result of a mental illness like psychosis or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Transitional or temporary homelessness can result from many situations including:

  • loss of a job
  • divorce
  • family issues (especially with runaway teens)
  • medical issues and the ensuing costs
  • death of a care provider

It’s not just the rich who fancy warmer climates when the cold winds blow. Thousands of homeless people migrate south each winter. Workers in the social services network of San Diego, a city with year-round moderate temperatures, complain about the influx of transient homeless people. Because of the temperate climate, there’s often a shortage of funding for homeless housing during the colder months.

What is Being Done to Help Homeless People?

Under bridges, on sewer vents, riding a bus or subway, near electrical transformers – in freezing weather, homeless people look for any place that is a bit warmer or protected from the wind to try to sleep. The lucky ones get a bed — sometimes no more than a mat on a cold floor — inside a building. Across the country, churches, hospitals, government institutions, and former military barracks provide housing to distressed people needing shelter.

Seattle staff members at Operation Nightwatch, a charity that helps the homeless, beg providers for additional bed space for cold clients. This year the need is greater but cash donations have been down. Rick Reynolds, the executive director, tells what his organization does in only twenty words! “We get people off the street, into a shelter, and started on the path of recovery every night of the year.”

Pastor Rick, as he is called by the street people he serves, is a master of understatement. His blog tells many homeless stories.

How Can One Individual Person or a Family Help Solve the Problem of Homelessness?


There are many ways one person can make a difference. Pooling the resources of many people and helping homeless charities which are already helping the homeless increases their effectiveness. Volunteers are the lifeblood of non-profit organizations. Local churches and social organizations often have food pantries and clothing cupboards to help needy people. Unpaid workers are needed to help receive, inventory, and distribute donations.

Donate good used items like shoes, clothing, and blankets. If there isn’t a charity for the homeless that can use your donation, give it to a non-profit thrift store where it is turned into cash. Remember to make an itemized list of the donations and get a receipt. Cash (check) gifts are always welcomed. Check with a tax expert to verify the deductibility of any donation.

In San Francisco, St. Anthony’s Foundation provides three meals a day for the needy people in its community. Guests are not required to be homeless, just hungry. St. Anthony’s celebrated serving more than 35 million meals in 2009 but it would not have happened without volunteers. Workers there can always use another pair of hands helping in the kitchen or dining room. Older children are welcome to assist also.

Allowing children over the age of ten or twelve to help charities can be a character building experience. It teaches young people far better than words that not everyone has the advantages and blessings that they enjoy. Regular volunteer work with a parent can become the highlight of a child’s month giving them a sense of adding value to their community. Many organizations are less concerned with the volunteer’s qualifications than their willingness to get involved.

Many people feel inclined to help during the holidays, but donations and volunteers are needed year ‘round. One shelter worker said, “After the apathy during the rest of the year, the holiday influx of do-gooders is often overwhelming for our clients.”

No matter how a person chooses to become involved in solving the problem of homelessness, it helps. Working towards a solution to a social problem of such magnitude is proof of the truth of the old maxim, “Many hands make light work.”


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