Community Activism: Helping the Homeless
Community Activism: Helping the Homeless
By Melissa Murphy
“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in….”
-Holy Bible, Matthew 25:35 (NIV)
According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, upwards of 13% of people in the U.S live in poverty. Of that 13%, about two-thirds are one crisis away from homelessness and about a third already have no place to call home. And, worse yet, there are a growing number of children in the homeless population.
For a community to become aware of the problems it faces, a better understanding of those problems is needed. Of the several categories that homeless people fall into, the most visible are the chronically homeless – those who have no set dwelling place for extended periods of time. In general, the chronically homeless have little or no stable means of physical or emotional support such as family and friends. To make matters worse, a large percentage of homeless people struggle with addiction issues and many suffer from mental illness. Many are victims of domestic violence, veterans, and ex-convicts, but all of them are human beings who, on a daily basis, experience the frustration of wondering how, or if, they will survive.
Because people often do not understand the needs and circumstances surrounding homelessness, they frequently react in a variety of ways. They may feel disgusted, repulsed, angry, or fearful. Since a growing number of communities are affected by the complexities of this emergent population, it helps to become educated about homelessness and learn to respond in ways that are more positive, compassionate, and beneficial. Here are a few things that people can do to impact their communities:
· Show kindness. Remember that having no home means having few belongings that connect you with your past. In addition, homeless people are often shunned by former friends and family member and have little or no contact with people that they love.
· Volunteer at local food pantries or soup kitchens. Members of the community can impact countless lives by simply giving a small amount of time to help do the work of feeding the homeless.
· Feed them yourself. Carry fast food certificates, fruit, or extra sandwiches to give to homeless people that you may encounter. The food you provide may be their only sustenance for the day.
· Make a donation. Find a non-profit organization that serves homeless people in your community and support them with donations. There are many shelters and other organizations that help homeless people by providing food, clothing, and personal care items. Donations of used adult and children’s clothing, toys, soap, deodorant, toothbrushes, toothpaste, household items, as well as monetary donations are graciously accepted.
· Share Your Knowledge. What could be a greater gift than teaching somebody what you know? Homeless people often lack the basic abilities that others take for granted. Can you repair small engines? Do you have computer skills? Can you garden or sew? Can you tutor a child? It’s important to remember that many homeless children don’t make it school every day. Teaching those skills to a homeless person at your local shelter can make a huge difference in their lives.
"You have not lived until you have done something for someone who can never repay you." - John Bunyan
The problem of chronic homelessness is quickly creeping into many communities that were previously unaffected and community involvement is becoming more important in addressing homelessness, as well as many other social issues. There are many things people can do to meet the priority needs of those that are homeless, but perhaps the most exciting aspect of a caring community that becomes involved is the prospect that preventative measures can be implemented to help reduce the incidence of homelessness in the future. Through understanding, compassion, and hard work, communities can take a more proactive stance to help the homeless in their neighborhoods.
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Institute for children and poverty. (2001). A shelter is not a home-Or is it?
Johnson, A.G. (2000). The Blackwell dictionary of sociology. Massachusetts: Blackwell publishing.