You’re inside your warm cozy car as the snow gently falls—and then you drive past someone who’s sleeping on the street. For most of us, it’s impossible not to feel bad.
At the same time, you’re not sure what to do. Do you give money? Buy them lunch? Drive by and make a donation to a local homeless shelter?
It can be hard to know what the right thing to do is—and there isn’t just one right option.
How to Provide Shelter for a Homeless Person
To be sure, there are people who actually jump right into the mix and offer homeless people rides to shelters, put them up in hotels or even invite them into their homes (like the amazing true story told in “The Blind Side”).
Most advocates say there’s a better way to help.
Thrive DC is a non-profit based in Washington D.C., that works to end homelessness. Instead, they suggest learning the “hypothermia hotline” for homeless people in your community. When the temperature dips below zero, you should be able to call that number for transportation to shelter.
What to Give a Homeless Person in Winter
Warm coats, hats, gloves, clothing, and blankets are all needed and appreciated. Most people who advocate for the homeless say it’s best to drop off such items at non-profits in your community that serve the homeless.
But others say they would never stop someone from helping directly. If you pass a homeless person who is shivering and want to give them your coat, that’s your call (hopefully, you’re almost to your own car or home). It’s also your call if you want to drive around and pass out blankets and food on an especially cold night, although advocates suggest only doing this kind of work in groups of two or more.
Helping the Homeless by Volunteering
Local homeless shelters and food kitchens are always in need of money, donations, and volunteers.
Advocates strongly urge starting there. Giving someone $5 won’t stop them from freezing to death or help their mental illness.
This is how Christy Parque, executive director of Homeless Services United, a coalition of homeless service agencies in New York City, explained the situation in an interview with CNN: “If you’re feeling like you really want to do something, then help out the helpers.”
At the end of the day, though, it’s your decision how, when, and where you choose to help.
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