In the city of dreams and glamour, every night over 60,000 Los Angeles residents go to sleep homeless. The number of homeless men, women, and children has only increased year-to-year in the Los Angeles area despite the money invested into housing programs. Only a small percentage of Los Angeles' homeless are provided shelter; the rest live on the streets, along river beds, under freeway overpasses, in their cars, behind buildings, in parks, or other makeshift encampments.
Southern California is starting to resemble the Great Depression descriptions in John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath. With the pandemic, this crisis has only worsened as more Americans are suffering from economic setbacks. Aside from the financial struggles, many homeless suffer from the mental and emotional toll of their situations. The longer a person remains homeless, the more difficult it can be to return to the mainstream of society. It can feel destabilizing, demoralizing, and depressing. Self-esteem, personality, and focus slowly wither away and are replaced with exhaustion, bitterness, and stress.
Homelessness isn't just a major issue in Los Angeles, it is a national epidemic. It takes a major toll on our communities financially and emotionally. Homelessness is expensive, costing Americans billions of dollars each year and becoming a systemic problem generation after generation.
So how can we combat homelessness? How can we work together to create better communities for the future?
The first step is taking the time to read this article and finding some compassion for these fellow Americans. We are extremely passionate about making our communities a safe and prosperous place. That is why today we are sharing our best resources and tips for how you can lend a hand in your community to combat homelessness and build a better society.
Here are THREE ways you can start giving back to your community and combating the homelessness problem in America.
Change your attitude towards the homeless community.
One of the most important things you can do is take a step back and become aware of your prejudices and attitudes towards the homeless community. When the topic comes up in conversation or you drive by them on the street, how does it make you feel? Do you feel hurt? Annoyed? Disturbed? Afraid?
What are your attitudes towards the people you see? Do you automatically perceive them as dangerous? Do you believe they put themselves in that situation?
How we think about the problem has a major effect on what we decide to do about it. Our awareness and understanding of the homeless community, who they are, and how they got there, are shaped by different factors. Our predetermined attitudes may come from our personal experiences, those of family members we know, direct encounters, media reports, or the stories that our friends tell us.
Once we come face to face with our prejudices and why we feel that way, we can work to shift those perceptions and work towards positive action. If we think of them as people living in poverty who have experienced significant hardship and pain, we may be inclined to think of different kinds of solutions. Positive action can be as simple as talking to your friends and family about the problem and how you feel about it. Spreading information can lead to small charitable actions which can result in real change. Interact with the homeless people you see, simply sharing smile can go a long way.
Volunteering your time to work directly with people experiencing homelessness is one of the best ways to learn more about the homelessness issue and the people suffering from it. There is a lot of behind-the-scenes work needed to be done, such as filing, sorting clothes, and cutting vegetables at shelters and other direct service agencies. Be open and honest about how you can help, when, for how long, and do your best!
There are so many different places you can volunteer at and provide a variety of services:
- A shelter. You can take an evening or overnight shift and help with administrative work such as answering phones, typing, filing, or sorting mail. You can serve food, wash dishes, or sort and distribute clothing.
- Assist in job training. Part of combatting the homelessness issue is to help those suffering secure jobs so they can have long-term success! You can provide mentoring or job training in your specific field of expertise. Some areas of expertise in demand are secretarial, catering, plumbing, accounting, management, carpentry, public relations, fundraising, legal, medical, dentistry, writing, child care, counseling, tutoring, or mentoring.
- Share your hobbies with a group of people staying at a homeless shelter. Whether it is exercise, a sport, reading, cooking, or art, hobbies are a great way to promote positivity, build relationships, and prioritize mental health.
- Invite people experiencing homelessness to a community event such as a church service, public concert or picnic, city council meeting, etc. Being involved in the community will be beneficial for both of you.
- Work with children. It all starts with the youth. If you enjoy working with children you can assist in coordinating events such as field trips, picnics, tutoring, or art workshops for children staying in homeless shelters. This can help get them excited about a variety of topics and start setting goals for their future.
- Help build or fix up houses or shelters. Check with your local public housing authority, or find the nearest chapter of Habitat for Humanity by calling (800) 422-4828 or visiting www.habitat.org
If you find yourself unable to make the time or commitment to volunteer, donations are always needed. Here's a list of things you can easily donate:
- Clothing. Lack of clean, well-fitting clothes and shoes not only causes hardship through exposure to harsh weather conditions, but it also hurts one’s self-image and chance to get ahead. Donations of clean clothes can also help them look presentable for job interviews. Check with your local homeless shelter before you do some spring cleaning this year!
- Household items. Items such as kitchen utensils, furniture, books, toys, games, stuffed animals, dolls, diapers, etc. can be extremely beneficial for service providers! Shelters are often extremely underfunded and always accepting donations like this.
- Non-perishable food. There are many food banks and shelters across the country that are always accepting non-perishable food donations. You can donate canned foods, rolled oats, nut butter, jerky, rice, condiments, nuts and seeds, kinds of pasta, and shelf-stable milk.
- Computers. Many non-profit organizations have a difficult time purchasing expensive but essential equipment such as computers. If you have any electronics you no longer use or need, a local shelter or service provider might greatly appreciate the donation. More access to computers could help with job applications, education, and research.
- Donate money to organizations providing for the homeless. If you don't feel comfortable donating directly to the homeless for fear that the money will be put towards addiction, you can donate money to mental health facilities, shelters, or food banks that work daily to combat homelessness.
Act as a positive role model and work towards prevention.
Advocacy is critical to creating the systemic changes needed to end homelessness. If you have your own story with homelessness or hardship, share it. Build relationships with people in your community. Be a reminder that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Show others in your community the work that can be done to end the homelessness problem on the local, state, and federal levels. Share valuable information online and work to educate yourself and others on current events.
Stay updated by visiting the following online resources:
- www.nationalhomeless.org The National Coalition for the Homeless is a national network of people determined to end and prevent homelessness while ensuring the immediate needs of those experiencing homelessness are met and their civil rights are respected and protected. They can serve as your one-stop shop for finding ways to get involved nationwide. They keep updated facts sheets on many aspects of homelessness including causes, numbers, and special issues that you can use to stay informed and share with your community.
- endhomelessness.org The National Alliance to End Homelessness is a nonprofit organization committed to preventing and ending homelessness in the United States. They offer educational resources, ways to take action, reliable data, and even job opportunities.
- https://innercitylaw.org/homelessness-prevention/ Inner City Law Center fights for housing and justice for low-income tenants, working-poor families, immigrants, people who are disabled or living with HIV/AIDS, and homeless veterans in the Los Angeles area. They offer locals different ways to get involved in the community and even a Skid Row Walking Tour to show people the reality of the homelessness situation in the LA County area.
At Wilkes Mortgage Group, we are committed to creating positive change in our community. We believe that with compassion, united effort, and education, we can come together as a nation to combat the homelessness epidemic in the United States. Please share your favorite resources with us to further our efforts!