When you hear the word advocacy, what pops into your mind? Anybody can sit behind a desk and make phone calls, send out emails and attend endless meetings but while time and money is being spent on that, what exactly goes on with the homeless people living and dying on the streets TODAY? Are you in or out of touch with today’s reality of homelessness? The biggest way to tell if you’re out of touch is if you actually believe there’s enough resources for homeless people to go to even though you’ve never checked to see if your belief is true.
One of the biggest mistakes anyone can make is to hand a homeless person a list of “resources” that the giver didn’t check out for themselves to see if they still exist or if they are so overwhelmed with waiting lists, they may as well be non-existent. Feeding people in parks is a good deed but homeless people need housing now, be it a parking lot for car dwellers to sleep in at night, a safe place to camp if you’re a rough sleeper or immediate housing for families with children. I can’t tell you how many empty church parking lots I’ve driven past that had plenty of space to host tent cities or car dwellers yet these same churches might allow a single homeless person to sleep behind the building outside.
Here’s another pet peeve of mine, if you want to help make sure you are giving appropriate help according to the individual’s need. Don’t send civilians to programs designed to help homeless vets or families to organizations that only help single adults and vice versa. Don’t assume all shelters serve everyone because…they don’t! Imagine how you’d feel if someone just callously handed you a sheet of paper they ran off their computer because they didn’t want to get any more involved than that. For mental health clients, understanding that they cannot be fixed with a pill and a referral will go a long way in helping them gain stability and lead productive lives. If police officers were actually trained in crisis intervention to avoid escalations with severely mentally ill homeless people, it would save tax payers money by not sending them to jail just to get them out of sight. Remember Kelly Thomas?
Here’s another tip, although it is tempting to donate cheap foods like Top Ramen and canned vegetables to your local food bank, before you buy ask yourself if you would eat the food you’re donating. Most food banks are filled with high sodium starchy foods that aren’t that nutritious and for an elderly person or someone with health problems, a prolonged diet on high sodium, fat and cholesterol will kill them. Also keep in mind that many homeless people go to food banks so giving them food that requires refrigeration or prolonged cooking methods doesn’t help them. They need items with pop tops of foods ready to eat or can be made in the park and cooked over a grill. Also, for the ladies, please donate items like feminine products and for families, diapers are a real help!
If you’re an organization looking for a way to provide real-time help, you may want to see what you can do to provide regular showers, laundry services, hygiene packs that include small first aid kits, bus tickets or monthly bus passes for homeless folks with jobs and gas vouchers for car dwellers if you can’t provide housing. Speaking from personal experience though, housing should be first, wrap around support services second. For struggling families, access to childcare so they can go to work without having to sacrifice all their monies to pay for childcare is the only way they can get ahead financially. What good does it do if both parents work low paying jobs and one of them has to spend all their wages on childcare alone? It’s worse if you’re a single parent…..
The best thing you can do above all is LISTEN. That’s the only way you’re going to be in touch with right now.