A few years ago, my family and I were walking through DC when my youngest (who has taken Olaf as his personal hero) walked up to a homeless man and hugged him.
I ALMOST DIED.
I’m not kidding you. Thoughts raced through my head about germs and bacteria and tuberculosis and possible knives (I mean, who knows?) and drug needles. And seriously, people, I’m a nice person. I literally craft things for charity as my job. But it took every particle of me to not leap out and save my son from the knife-wielding petri dish that I saw him snuggling up to.
That image has popped into my head this week as we’ve been crafting to help the homeless. And so, to start off this homeless discussion, I have a request of you: go to Instagram & type in #homeless. Then scroll through and see what you get.
Kind of depressing, isn’t it?
I’ve seen everything from pictures that make you want to cry because of the hopelessness of humanity, to slightly off-the-wall comments that kind of don’t make logical sense from people that are now living on the streets (with an Instagram account, no less), to strong and provocative posts from those that have lived in homelessness and explain what it’s really like, to inspiring photos of people serving and helping the homeless to get back on their feet.
Homelessness is SUCH a complex issue, with so many sides to pick from.
Vagrancy laws are the best way to reduce homelessness because they give authority to get people off the streets and into shelters / It’s inhumane to penalize and criminalize the people that are struggling the most and have fallen through the cracks.
Don’t give money to the homeless because they’ll just use it on drugs and alcohol / the homeless, more than anything, need community and love and support from others to get back on their feet.
Homeless people are where they are because they haven’t worked hard enough and are taking advantage of our social net / Many homeless people are mentally ill and need extra support in order to navigate life.
It’s SO. COMPLICATED.
Here are the facts: There are roughly 2 million homeless in America. 44% are single men, 36% are families, 13% are single women, and 7% are unaccompanied minors. 50% of women and children on the streets are fleeing domestic violence. Roughly 11% of the homeless population are veterans – 40% of the men on the street are veterans. 68% of U.S. cities report that addiction is the single largest cause of homelessness. 20-25% of the homeless suffer from mental illness. 18% of people living on the streets get 4 or less hours of sleep every night. It costs $30/day to house an individual, and $65/day to jail an individual. One homeless person can cost a community as much as $23,000 per year. The United States spends roughly $4.5 Billion dollars each year on homelessness.
These are not to make you take a specific side (frankly, we haven’t figured out our side). These are so you can be informed. In one of the best quotes we’ve found thus far, “Your job is not to judge. Your job is not to figure out if someone deserves something. Your job is to lift the fallen, to restore the broken, and to heal the hurting.” (Joel Osteen). It’s the job of the lawmakers in our country to create the laws to deal with homelessness. And yes, you should be informed. You should then vote with your conscience – because that will be the long-term solution. But, in the meantime, it is your job to lift these fallen neighbors.
So how can we restore the broken?
I’m so glad you asked 🙂
Three Ways to Help the Homeless
- Upcycled Purse: Do you have an old purse that you once loved but is no longer your vogue? Time to upcycle that baby. Fill it with toiletries – we’re talking soap, wipes, toothpaste (toothpaste is HUGE), tampons, pads, the works – and take it with you the next time you go downtown. Give it to the first homeless woman you see. Toiletries are one of the most-sought items among the homeless.
- Blankets: Exposure is one of the biggest killers of people on the streets. And with the recent crazy cold weather, shelters and temporary housing facilities have been so overrun they haven’t been able to take everyone in. So. Make a blanket. Give it to your local homeless person on the corner. If you don’t know how – or if you only have time to make a blanket square – get our project of the month and we’ll show you (and also tell you where to send it). Bonus: If you’re a member of our Aina Change Crafters Facebook group, you’ll get the project for free 😉
- Give Them a Hug. I am not kidding you on this one. Hugs are so important. Clearly my son knows this. Homeless people themselves have reported that the most important thing that you can give someone on the streets is compassion. I’ve seen this firsthand. The homeless man that my son hugged? He teared up. He looked my 4-year-old in the eye and said “man, that’s the best gift I’ve been given all day. I needed that.” It makes me get all weepy (and SO MAD AT MYSELF FOR MY JUDGEY THOUGHTS) just to think about it. Hugs. They’re important. Clearly Olaf was on to something.
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Carmen Westbrook is the CEO and co-founder of Aina Giving, a female-led company that transforms women into world changers. Join the movement of DIY World Change and get our accredited projects, leadership coaching, and nonprofit consulting – email us and tell us how you want to change the world. We’ll help you get there.