How to Help the Homeless in Your Community

Volunteer helping serve food to the homeless in her community.

According to the most recent report by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on homelessness, around 553,000 people in the United States experienced homelessness on any given day in 2018. Unfortunately, that number is rising.

The report stated that in 2018, homelessness increased by a small amount (.3%), the second year in a row that it has done so. More people were staying in places not fit for human habitation while fewer of them were going to shelters. People with chronic patterns of homelessness, in which they may be housed for a time but end up back on the street, also increased by 2% from 2017 to 2018.

There was a bit of good news in the report: the number of families with children who were homeless decreased by 2% in the same time period, which was down 23% from 2007 numbers. Still, thousands of people from all walks of life remain without a home to go back to. These people need the help of their community in the form of a kind word, a place to stay, or a hot meal. For someone experiencing homelessness, it can make a world of difference.

One sector of the community doing a lot to help the homeless community is faith-based organizations. Small local churches and religious groups have shouldered a considerable amount of the effort it takes to get people sheltered, fed, trained, and staying in their new homes. While there are myriad government and grassroots organizations doing their part every day to help the homeless, this article will focus on faith-based institutions and the actions they are taking to fight homelessness.

How Faith-Based Groups Impact Homeless Outreach

In 2017, the National Alliance to End Homelessness conducted a survey of faith-based organizations, to learn what exactly they did to help end homelessness in their respective communities. They found that these groups provided a large portion of available emergency shelters for the homeless, with faith-based organizations providing two in every five beds in shelters nationally.

In 2016, faith-based organizations provided over 20,000 emergency shelter beds to families experiencing homelessness and over 53,000 beds to individuals. Those numbers of beds made up 15.5% and 41.4% of total shelter spaces respectively. In total, all the faith-based organizations who responded to the survey could house 150,000 people on a given night.

But religious groups go farther than just providing beds for the night. They also staff transitional homes where people can stay until they get back on their feet. In these homes, people can also possibly learn the skills they need to land a job, which can help them stay housed. Religious groups have the extra advantage, according to the report, of being heavily involved with their communities through pre-existing personal relationships. They form bonds with the people they help and believe it is part of their faith to help others to the best of their ability. Atlanta Mission, for example, helps around 1,000 homeless individuals per day through a combination of shelters, training programs, and transitional homes. Atlanta Mission’s CEO Jim Reese said in an interview with Christianity Today, “Instead of being a kitchen cook, you’d be out at the tables with the people. How do you change lives? It comes from creating a relationship with them and building trust.”

Faith-based organizations provided over half of available emergency shelter beds in 11 of the largest cities in the United States in 2017. They also provided, and continue to provide, services in addition to shelter such as education, healthcare, job training, addiction recovery, and more.

How to Help the Homeless in Your Community

You by no means have to be a large nonprofit or church organization to help homeless people in your community. There are multiple ways you can lend a hand, large or small. If you aren’t already a member of a local religious organization that matches your faith, you could join one, and become part of their efforts to help. In addition, you or a group of friends could:

1. Organize a clothing drive

Those experiencing homelessness have a particularly hard time in the winter when the weather can turn lethally cold, and they don’t have the money to pay for new items of clothing like coats, hats, socks, shoes, and gloves. Inadequate clothing in the winter can cause hypothermia and death, especially when people are forced to take shelter in harsh environments where they cannot get warm. You can organize a coat drive in your community, taking the clothes you manage to collect to the local shelter or soup kitchen. Businesses in your city or town may be willing to pitch in, as well.

2. Hand out prepared lunches

A simple bagged lunch can go a long way for someone who is hungry. Simple items like fruits, sandwiches, or snack bars can be nutritious while not requiring silverware or cooking facilities. They’re also easy to prepare; you just bag them up and pass them out. It might be worth considering the inclusion of small notes or cards with the lunches that list services available to the homeless, whether that be nearby shelters, soup kitchens, or training programs.

3. Volunteer your time at a family shelter or food bank

Families staying at shelters with their children need additional support. They need people to help as they balance their responsibilities as parents with their need to find housing and, possibly, employment. You can help by tutoring at a local shelter or conducting activities like games or story time with the kids.

4. Spare some change

While this is an area of debate for some who worry the money given will be spent on an addiction rather than necessities, money is still needed to assist the homeless. There are ways for those who are concerned to donate money indirectly can help, such as buying a meal for someone or giving money to a local organization that provides services to the homeless community. That could be the local food bank, shelter, or a charity that provides clothing and job skills training.

The Knowledge and Training to do More

When we think of people experiencing homelessness, a stereotype often pops into our heads. But the truth is that people can lose their homes for a lot of different reasons, and often, many factors contribute to someone ending up on the street. It could be mental illness, abuse, the loss of a job, or being displaced by a natural disaster like Hurricane Harvey or the California wildfires. You never really know what someone dealing with homelessness is going through until you get to know them.

If your faith calls you to take action and become a helping hand in the place where you live, consider getting your Master of Arts in Ministry from Bethel University. With our program, you can earn your master of ministry degree online, on your time, and gain the knowledge and training you need to become a leader in your church and community.

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