According to the U.S. White House Council of Economic Advisers, an estimated 552,830 Americans experienced homelessness in 2019, and about 20 percent (one in five) of them were children. The National Alliance to End Homelessness recently reported that on a single night in January 2020, “an estimated 171,575 people in families–or 55,739 family households–were identified as homeless,” and that, “Approximately 16,667 people in families were living on the street, in a car, or in another place not meant for human habitation.”
While most would agree that homelessness is a tragic problem in the United States, especially when it affects children, it is sometimes difficult to know what to do about it. In big cities, homeless may seem too widespread and inevitable. In rural communities and small towns, on the other hand, homelessness may seem to be a problem that is far away and unreachable. Cash donations to nonprofit or faith-based organizations can help those experiencing homeless, of course, but some may think that simply writing a check is too easy or disconnected.
This article lists some ways to be more involved, and also how to help those closer to home or perhaps in your own community.
- Contact your local school district.An article published by the United Way points out that every school district employs a homeless liaison. “The liaison keeps the count of homeless families, coordinates services, and serves as one of the primary contacts between homeless families and school staff, district personnel, shelter workers, and other service providers,” states the article. This person can be contacted for advice about how to get directly involved with homeless children and families–whether that’s donated food, needful and specific in-kind items, or even other forms of direct assistance, such as transportation.
- Contact your local child-welfare agency.Most states in the United States have a centralized, state-based agency that oversees child welfare and administers family services. Some states regulate child welfare through county-based agencies, and some states have hybrid county-state systems. In any case, the local office of child welfare administration in your state will have information about how to get involved in fighting homelessness, including opportunities to sponsor or foster homeless children.
- Find and get to know your local homeless advocacy scene.There’s a high probability that there is a homeless shelter, advocacy center, and other organizations that assist those experiencing homelessness in your community. In larger population centers, a network of partnered organizations will likely be present. And there is an almost 100 percent probability that these organizations will need some form of help from the community. They will almost surely have ways to provide direct assistance, such as cash and in-kind donations, but chances are they also need dedicated volunteers. Working as a volunteer can begin in simple ways, such as working in a homeless kitchen, but can quickly evolve into more-involved efforts, like taking on volunteer leadership roles.
- Collect, assemble, and donate items commonly needed by children experiencing homelessness.Many organizations involved in assisting those who experience homeless have identified certain, often-needed items or assemblages of items. These include diapers and “mom packs” with diapers and other early child-care items; backpacks loaded with school supplies; and suitcases containing toys, blankets, and hygiene items for children entering state care or foster care. A good pair of blue jeans is evidently so useful to children experiencing housing difficulties (because they’re durable and can be worn multiple times between launderings) that entire nonprofit organizations have arisen to collect and distribute them. This is a good way to provide direct assistance and can be worked on as you have time and resources to give.
- Be a community advocate and ally.Once you’ve become familiar with the scope of homelessness in your community, the resources and solutions available to those experiencing homelessness, and how to be involved, work on informing and involving those around you. Advocate for the cause of homelessness and become a guide to others who may want to also help.