You see them on the street corners, at intersections, in parking lots, in front of grocery stores and banks. They look scary, rough and dirty. You don’t want to get too close because, well, ew, they’re dirty and stinky. They are the homeless and today I want to talk about how to help homeless people and why you should.
Every city/town has at least one. There are a couple here where I live in the tiny town of Panajachel, Guatemala.
We all know who the homeless are. They have signs that, for the most part, are written out illegibly. Some just have old Styrofoam coffee cups placed in front of them. Others have their guitar cases laid out on the sidewalk while they desperately try to catch your attention with an old Neil Young tune.
These are the helpless the hopeless the homeless.
Why I’m writing an article about homelessness
I get this isn’t my usual style of writing. I mostly talk about how to let go of the past, forgive people, love yourself, build self esteem and all that other personal development stuff BUT did you know that it was volunteering at a homeless shelter that completely turned my life around?
I’m not sure if you know that but as I was going through a really difficult time in my life trying to climb my way out of rock bottom and figuring out what the hell I was going to do with my life I started helping the homeless people and my whole world changed. In a good way of course!
You can learn more about my healing journey (and how you can start yours now too) by watching the video below.
I want people today to know that your healing journey should include helping the less fortunate. Part of it should have nothing to do with you and everything to do with serving others. If you are on a healing path right now I need you to include this small act of kindness into your self love tool box.
Volunteering at a homeless shelter-the day my life changed
In a nutshell, this is how it went down and what happened after I started volunteering at a homeless shelter.
I filled out an application, got accepted, assigned a day and duty and then showed up for it. I checked my ego and my problems at the door and walked in to the shelter nervous, full of anxiety, and scared that it would end up being a big fat disaster.
I was in their ‘home’ now. Their safe place.
The place where they can put their signs away, exchange the dirty coffee cup (that has little money in it) for a clean one filled with coffee, tuck the guitar case away in the corner and settle in for a nice hot meal served by people who don’t judge them. They sit and laugh amongst themselves and joke heartily with the mission volunteers, myself being one of them.
I was instantly welcomed into their ‘family’ with open arms, big smiles and hugs.
They have good manners. We all say grace before meals and they ALL remove their hats before grace. They all say “thank you very much for the great dinner” and they are all pretty harmless. Really. They are human beings just like you and I.
I take a minute to tell a young native girl that she looks absolutely beautiful in her pretty summer dress and she looks at me surprised, maybe even a little shocked that someone has paid her a compliment, and slowly smiles. Gradually her whole face lights up as she says thank you.
She has the sweetest smile. And I can feel a tiny tear forming in my eye.
I sneak an extra glass of milk to the young man who looks agitated and he touches my hand, gives me the most sincere look I’ve seen in a long time and whispers ” God bless you, thank you so so much.”
And then there’s the homeless guy Steve, an older native man, who doesn’t come in drunk but always smells of alcohol, he meets me and tells me he’s going to marry me. I tell him he can’t handle me. He flashes a toothless grin and shakes his finger at me.
Homeless, happy, innocent, sweet people. And not once in a million years did I ever think I’d be sitting among them drinking coffee, serving dinner and completely falling in love with each and every one of them.
Why do we judge others?
We judge what we fear and what makes us feel uncomfortable or insecure (inferior). We also judge people when we are jealous of them. I know, we’re strange creatures.
But I need to be honest with you about something. I’m not painting myself to be a saint and perfect and a wonderful human being. I used to judge the homeless people. All the time. I was never mean to them but I certainly didn’t go out of my way to be nice to them either.
There was a period in my life where I was spoiled and selfish and greedy. I was just not a nice human being at all. I did things for my gain and never for anyone else. Certainly not for homeless people.
I would walk around them, ignore them, snub my nose at them and never help them. And then one day I just woke up and I can’t even tell you what happened because I don’t know but I suddenly had more empathy, for all people, not just the homeless.
I suddenly wanted to help people more and try and do my part to end suffering. It was a slow journey but it got started and I’m so glad it did. And with that I stopped judging them.
How to help homeless people
It’s a lot easier than you think. I hear so many times that no one wants to give them money in case they spend it on booze, drugs, crack or whatever. I totally get that. There are many ways to help homeless people and giving them money is just a small way.
Please keep in mind, however, that ours is not to judge or assume what they are going to do with the money we give them. Also keep in mind not all overnight shelters are free. Some require to pay even a little. Many homeless people actually do use the money for food, shelter, a shower, toiletries, etc.
So please don’t assume that giving them money will mean it goes to their addiction. It’s not always the case.
10 Loving Ways to Help the Homeless
In no particular order of importance, here are 10 simple and loving ways to help the homeless people. Any or all of them you can do today. Like stop reading this right now and go do one of these for the next homeless person you see.
1 Buy them a meal
Now that may sound like a no brainer but it really isn’t. Yes they can usually get food at shelters but not always. It’s slightly complicated but not all are able to get meals as easily as you think. Do you know when they ate last? Get them some pizza or burger and fries or whatever!
2 Bring them a coffee or bottled water
Many haven’t had anything to drink in hours. How do you feel when you go hours without water (or coffee/tea)? We can get dehydrated and then get a headache. The only difference is that it’s easy for us to get an aspirin for a headache. It’s not so easy for them. Bring them something to drink. Even if they don’t need it now they may need it later.
3 Sit and chat with them
I think everyone should do this at least once in their life. Sit and chat with a homeless person not only to keep them company and give them someone to talk to but to find out what their life is like. You’ll be horrified and will have a whole new appreciation for homeless people.
If you aren’t interested in volunteering at a shelter there are many other ways to volunteer. You can knit socks for winter, do a clothes drive in your area, pick up and deliver food for the shelter. The possibilities are endless. Contact the homeless shelter in your area and find out how you can volunteer.
5 Donate blankets, pillows, household items, etc.
Whether you have old pillows, blankets, socks, clothes, shoes, or whatever, trust me when I say the homeless shelter nearest you can certainly use them. If they don’t need them you can give them right to a homeless person. He’ll/she’ll definitely be very grateful. Items they usually need are socks, shoes, underwear, toiletries.
6 Donate money to the shelter
Most shelters run solely on donations and fundraising efforts. They are not normally gov’t funded. If you don’t want to give money to a homeless person you can certainly make a monetary donation to the homeless shelter near you. This way you can be sure your money is going to good use.
7 Raise awareness
You can help raise awareness for the homeless shelter in your area or the homeless people near you and get the community involved in helping them. I feel it’s important to not only educate our children about this issue and how to help the homeless but many people still turn a blind eye and judge. By raising awareness, you can do your part to get people involved and make it a community project to help the homeless instead of judging them.
8 Cook or bake something
We had a few ladies that would bake lots of yummy treats to serve with dinner. Most nights there was no treat and dinner was skeletal. You can call up your shelter and ask things like what can you bring, if anything, how many they feed and what they need most. You’ll be shocked to find out how your homeless shelter operates. I know I was.
9 Donate feminine care
Many homeless women don’t have money for pads or tampons and they get what the shelter has or, none at all. Yes that’s a thing. Can you imagine what it feels like to have a period and not have anything to stay clean and dry? Think about that for one minute. Next time you are at a pharmacy grab some pad, tampons, panty liners, etc and either donate them to a shelter or give them to a homeless woman on the street. Trust me, she’ll love you for it.
10 Start a fundraiser at work or school
Did you know you can do that yourself? Start up your own fundraiser. Whether you go to work or are still in school, you can start up a fundraiser and let people know all proceeds go to the homeless shelter near you. It’s a fantastic way to raise awareness and get more people involved in helping. You never know, you just may start a trend!
It’s easy to help the homeless
Now if those weren’t 10 simple and loving ways to help the homeless then I got nothing. It’s so easy to help. Don’t judge, don’t walk by them with disgust, don’t yell at them to “get a job you bum”. Don’t do any of that negative horrible stuff. Just be kind.
We are all human beings. We’re all on this planet together. If you can’t help another person please don’t hurt them.
I do as much as I can here in Guatemala to help the poor people and even the street dogs (there are a LOT of those). If you want to help me make a dent in poverty and helplessness here you can click on the purple button below and buy me a coffee. All proceeds go directly to buying dog food or groceries for hungry and poor families. (you can check out the photo gallery!)
Peace and Love!