If you live in New England, you know that it’s going to be a long winter (or already is). You know that heating your house or apartment will be expensive due to the cold temperatures. You know that if you go out, you should have gloves and hats and boots and — if possible — dress in layers. If you have asthma, you should have your inhaler with you. In short, it’s cold, it’s snowy (or raining or sleeting). You need to stay warm and dry.
But what if you can’t? What if you have no escape from the weather or the cold? The homeless are everywhere, especially in the city and they need things that you might be able to give — or help give. If they don’t get them, they’ll die. It is as simple as that. Often, it’s not the things you’d think about giving. There are long-term solutions to homelessness but we don’t have time for them right now. I would hope that we, as a nation, can revisit those later. For now, we have to keep people alive.
First things first: They need a place to be. If you know of a place that can take them in, help make that space available. Churches have basements, for instance. Other churches operate shelters as a part of their mission. Find out about them. Get and give information about them. Support them by giving financial or other donations. There might be unused and empty stores available. Urge your local government to make those available on an emergency basis. If your city has a subway system, let the homeless congregate there overnight. It is not great, but it’s better than being out in the below-zero wind chill and the two or three feet of snow. If they are in your public library during the day, don’t have them kicked out.
After that, they need to stay warm and dry. If you have old coats or hats or mittens or gloves that you;re nor using, give them to a shelter or give them to a person. If you don’t need them, they do. If you have old boots, or those Totes things that cover shoes, and you can spare them, give them. If you have extra blankets, give them to a shelter or give them to a person.
Now for the “silly” things that most people don’t think about. Homeless women need “personal grooming products” — tampons, pads, and such. Homeless men and women need access to toilets with toilet paper. They could also use toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo, deodorant, and soap, washcloths and towels. Nobody’s going to die without them, though. If you know of a business that has a public restroom, let them use it.
Many shelters are “day shelters” or “overnight shelters” only — push community leaders to make sure there are places for people to be 24 hours a day.
Many shelters are women’s shelters, and many family shelters don’t allow boys over the age of 13 to stay with them. Do what you can to support those who fall through the cracks. Buy them a hot meal. Make sure there are shelters by making a financial gift so that they can stay open as long as they need to. Volunteer to help them if they need staff.
They — individuals and organizations — need food. Give what you can. By the way, if you can give money to a foodbank, rather than cans, there are ways that they can get food at lower cost so the homeless will have more resources available to them. That said, no one will turn away your donated food.
Again, these issues need to be addressed long-term by us as a nation, and there are ways to do that, For right now, though, let’s keep folks alive. It’s going to be a long, cold winter. Our fellow humans need our help.