Help The Homeless: 10 Ways That Don’t Cost Money!

Earlier this week, I coordinated a luncheon to serve the homeless men and women in Atlanta. Because working with the homeless is a cause that is important to me, I occasionally send tweets about it. I knew we were going to have a lot of hungry people show up for lunch, but I didn’t know how we were going to have enough food for all of them. I didn’t get stressed about it though, a little voice inside my head just told me it would somehow work out.

Thanks to our Bit Rebels readers, my Twitter followers and a small private school in Atlanta, it all worked out perfectly. The kids at the school prepared food in their classrooms. About 20 of them accompanied me to serve. Watching them learn about service and giving back through this experience was touching. It was also magical to see what happened when our Bit Rebels readers and my Twitter followers got involved. I didn’t ask anyone to send me money for this event. However, since our regular readers and my followers are truly my friends, they knew I was planning this event, and without me having to say anything, they just started asking if they could help.

Several people asked for my address so they could send me money to buy food, some local followers asked if they could make food and bring it, and even others traveled from long distances to help us make sure it was a special day for those less fortunate. I don’t know exactly how many people we served, but it was a lot! The line just went on and on… It was so wonderful to do something nice for so many people, and we wouldn’t have been able to do it if it wasn’t for all your help that just came pouring in. Once again, I’m blown away by your generosity and graciousness, and I’m humbled to have such incredible people in my life.

“Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little.” ~Burke

Together we are so strong, and this is another example of many how we can truly make a difference when we work together. Thank you very much. I am forever grateful, and so are all the men and women that got to enjoy a nice luncheon that day. For many of them, that was their only hot meal for the month. I would like to specifically give thanks to @mistygirlph, @joycecherrier and @DesireeScales for being so encouraging and sending such nice messages and tweets of support.

So many people want to help the homeless, but they feel uncomfortable directly handing out money. I can understand that concern. Homeless is a complicated problem. Often times it is a result of substance abuse, mental illness or domestic violence/spousal abuse. How can you help without actually handing out cash? There are many ways! Like with everything else, you just have to get creative. I have listed 10 ways here, but I’m sure there are many more we could add to this list. Please leave a comment below with your ideas. Thank you for taking the time to read about this problem, which affects so many people in the world today.

1. Show Respect and Share a Smile

This may sound like a small thing to you; however, it isn’t a small thing to the people who are walking the streets all day. Most of the time, these people are ignored and shunned. One of the students that helped at the event this week asked me, “Are we allowed to talk to those people?” I was shocked at that question, and then realized that many people have that attitude about the homeless.

Like my grandfather used to say, we all put our pants on one leg at a time. In other words, ultimately, we are all part of one big family and just because someone is homeless, it doesn’t mean they don’t deserve the same respect that we would give any other human being. Showing respect, smiling and just saying hello as you walk by is a huge way to brighten the day of someone that is in that situation.

This is a picture of two volunteers and me at our event this week. (Yes, my hair is blond now.)

2. Give Your Leftovers to Those Who Are Hungry

Personally, I’ve taken this one step further. Here in Atlanta, it seems like all the restaurants are in a contest to see who can serve the biggest portions. Everywhere the portion sizes are huge. For me, an appetizer is many times too much to eat for a meal. It’s ridiculous really.

I’ve started asking the waiter or waitress to pack half of my dinner to-go (and I ask them to include a plastic fork) before it ever even comes to the table. It helps me maintain my weight since I won’t be tempted to eat so much. In addition, I now have a wonderful restaurant meal to give to someone that needs it. I usually pass several homeless people on my way home, and it’s easy to just hand it to someone out the window. Everyone I’ve given a meal to has been very appreciative.

Food isn’t the only thing you can give to the homeless. While it obviously has some immediate benefits, there are other things you can give to the homeless to help them out in the long term. Would you believe that donating your boat can help the homeless? While it goes without saying that you wouldn’t be directly giving your nautical vehicle to the homeless, boat donations can help out a surprisingly large number of charities.

At our event this week, we were blessed to serve ten large turkeys and several great big honey hams. Here is a picture of some of them!

3. Blog About Homelessness in Your Area to Raise Awareness

Just changing our attitude about the homeless goes a long way. Many of us think the homeless are just useless drunks, lazy people who don’t want to work or insane, dangerous drug addicts. Sure, there are some homeless people who will do anything for a bottle of liquor, and there are some who take advantage of the system to get all they can because they don’t want to work.

However, what about the countless number of homeless people who are trying their best to improve their situation? What about the homeless mothers who will do absolutely anything to provide a meal for their children? Just raising awareness by blogging about these difficult questions will help people change some people’s attitudes, and perhaps some of us will look at people living on the street with a little more empathy.

4. Distribute Lists of Important Phone Numbers

Back in the old days, there were phone booths on every corner with a phone book attached on the metal chain. Anyone had access to the phone book and the wealth of information inside that book. These days, now that almost everyone has a cell phone, public phone booths are hard to find, and important phone numbers are even harder to find for someone without a cell phone. It is very, very helpful to make a list of important phone numbers and keep several copies of it in your car to pass out if someone approaches your car or begs you for money on the street.

This list could include everything from the Salvation Army, churches, public health clinics, agencies that offer services to the homeless, soup kitchens and even bus stops. For a homeless person, knowing where the public libraries are (for free computer/internet access) and knowing about this free voicemail service (to keep in touch with friends and family) are hugely helpful.

The middle school students had fun making all the desserts, which included these pumpkin pies!

5. Assist By Using Your Skills

Sometimes we forget how much valuable information and resources we have because of the industry that we are in. For example, if you are a teacher, you can teach a class about how to set up a gmail email address and write a resume. If you are a hairdresser, you can arrange to give free haircuts one Saturday afternoon.

Since I’m in the computer business, I often times have clients give me their old computers when they buy a new one. It’s easy for me to delete the data off the hard drive, reformat it, and give it to a homeless shelter for people to use to access information, check email, write a resume, do research, etc… Whatever industry you are in; there is most likely a way you can use your skills to help those less fortunate.

6. Educate Your Children About Homelessness

Our children learn from us how to treat people, especially people that can make us feel uncomfortable, like the homeless. It’s very similar to bees. When a mother sees a bee and starts screaming and running, her children will most likely grow up doing the same thing because they’ve watched and learned from her. Since I’ve learned that screaming and running just aggravates bees, I usually just stand there and say, “Oh look, there is a bee.” As a result, my son reacts the same way. He’s never been afraid of a bee. Similarly, if we look at homeless people as dirty and diseased people, our children will grow up doing the same.

I think it’s important to educate our children about different lifestyles and choices that we make in our lives. By teaching them to have a sense of empathy and love towards all different kinds of people, including the homeless, they will most likely grow up and teach their own children the same attitude. Slowly we can change the perception that people have not only about the homeless, but also about people with different skin colors, people with disabilities, etc…

These are a few of the middle school students that served the food at our event this week.

7. Pack an Extra Lunch

This is another easy one! Many people still pack a lunch to take to work or school each day. Wouldn’t it be easy to make another ham and cheese sandwich while you are at it? There was a time when I got into this so much that I was making 25 ham and cheese sandwiches every morning. It’s so much fun!

If you make an extra sandwich, just slip in your handbag or briefcase. It’s kind of neat to be going about your day as usual, and when you see someone begging or someone that is obviously less fortunate, it’s nice to offer him or her a sandwich. It’s even nicer to sit with that person and eat your own lunch with him or her. It will give you a new perspective and appreciation for the blessings you have in your life.

The students had fun putting the colorful sprinkles on these double chocolate cupcakes!

8. Give Away Your Old Coats and Blankets in the Winter

Again, it’s easy to toss things in your car when you leave in the morning. You can either give them out during the day to people that need them, or you can drop them off at a homeless center after work. In the wintertime, there is always a shortage of hats, gloves, coats, blankets, scarves, sweaters and anything that could keep people warm outside when the temperature drops.

Sleeping outside can be very dangerous in the winter. Many times the homeless shelters will reach capacity, and worse case scenario; some people have to sleep outside when the temperature drops below freezing. Have you ever wondered why some people sleep on park benches in the middle of the day? It’s because they walk around all night long looking for ways to stay warm and protected from the cold and wind. For survival purposes, many homeless people get their days and nights mixed up in the winter.

9. Don’t Like People? Adopt a Homeless Pet

(Ok, I admit, this one will cost you a little money)

There are millions of homeless animals, and about half of them get euthanized each year. Adopting a homeless pet will not only save a life; it can bring a lot of love into your home. I have adopted two homeless dogs. One is a 65-pound Marmaduke named Daffy, and the other is a 3-pound poodle named Mary. Both of those dogs have a special appreciation for life. They are easy going and happy.

It warms my heart to know that I saved them from being euthanized, and they are truly part of my family now. If you are an animal lover, this might be a good option for you. There are all kinds of organizations that you can contact to see the homeless dogs and cats that are available for adoption. Many times these animals are free. Sometimes there is a fee, but it is usually just to cover the cost of the necessary shots.

10. Be Kind and Patient, Even When You Get Frustrated

The solution to homelessness is not going to come overnight. Like I said, it’s a complicated problem. People become homeless for so many different reasons, and each reason has a long list of potential problems in itself. In other words, homelessness is a symptom of other very big issues. I know it can be overwhelming when thinking about it, and if you ponder it long enough, you may get frustrated and think there is nothing you can really do to help.

Try to be kind and patient. My dream is that someday everyone has an address, and a place that they can call “home.” Until that day comes, we can help by being kind and patient, even if it’s annoying when someone knocks on our car window to beg or shakes their cup of coins in our face. Instead of getting angry, try to turn that energy into empathy and smile, after all, that might be the only smile that person gets all day long.

Image Credits: [Viktor Gladkov / Shutterstock], [forestpath / Shutterstock], [wrangler / Shutterstock], [Alexander A. Kataytsev / Shutterstock]