I Want to Volunteer to Help the Homeless: Where Do I Start?
If you’re looking to help homeless individuals in your community, it can be difficult to know how to begin. Homelessness is a society-wide issue, and each person experiencing it has different needs and faces different challenges. If you would like to learn how to volunteer to help the homeless near you, here are a few positive ways to make an impact.
Start local. First things first, get to know the shelters and soup kitchens in your community. Homelessness is a highly localized problem—it’s completely different to live unsheltered in San Diego versus Minneapolis. Nobody knows the homeless population and their needs better than the people who are serving them every day. Find them and ask what they need.
Donate the necessities. If your schedule doesn’t allow for on-site volunteerism, or if you’d like to include your friends and family in the effort, make care packages to drop off at shelter. If you’re not sure what to include, start with travel-sized toiletries and fresh socks. Volunteer-led efforts like Blessing Bags can guide you from there.
Offer your skills. Serving food and donating personal items are essential, helpful actions, but maybe you have more specific skills that shelters could benefit from. Are you good with construction, or house painting? Most shelters would love volunteers that can help with repairs or beautification of their space. Are you a great fundraiser or event planner? Help put together a donation campaign or awareness-raising family event.
Lead a campaign at work or school. Once you get involved, enlist those closest to you in the fight. Organize an after-work or after-school program to make care packages, or solicit volunteers for a day at a soup kitchen. You never know who will be inspired to do more for people experiencing homelessness after that initial experience.
Participate in a Point-in-Time Count. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development mandates annual or biennial head counts of homeless individuals in many cities. Find out if your city holds one and sign up to canvas a neighborhood on the night of. The Point-in-Time count, as it’s known, is a key data point for HUD’s funding for services for unsheltered people.
Become a street outreach programs. Many homeless agencies, especially those that serve young people, include street outreach programs that proactively seek out unsheltered individuals to offer emergency services, food, and other necessities. Find a federally funded street outreach program near you and ask about the training process.