What kind of help do homeless people most need at Christmas?
Christmas consumerism can be lovely when kept in its place. We are not Grinches here. Still, if you’re yearning to do something different this year, one option is to look at some different ways to help the homeless.
Christmas is an emotional time where people often have high expectations of happiness. Even if you don’t have much time, money or independence, you can still help the homeless at Christmas in non-judgemental ways that make a difference.
The best way to start is to search online for an organised homeless shelter or soup kitchen in your area, and see what sort of help they’re looking for over the Christmas period. They work with the homeless all the time, and have a concrete plan in place for ways to support those on the streets.
Donate money to food banks
Some supermarkets offer to pass your donated food onto food banks who help feed the homeless. Of course, it’s great if you donate to them. But it’s worth knowing that food banks can already buy from supermarkets at wholesale prices.
Why not donate your money to food banks directly? This way, they can get the food they most need. If you prefer to donate food, food bank websites are likely to have a wishlist.
Food banks help all kinds of people and they always struggle to meet demand. When you donate to a food bank, you can REALLY make a difference. If you live in the UK you can find your local food bank with The Trussel Trust.
Donate to homeless shelters
Shelters might well be looking for donations of:
- Clothing – socks, blankets, warm clothes, hats, toiletries and footwear
- Useful food like basic canned goods
- Entertainment – from second-hand books to toys for kids (and although second-hand toys are thoughtful, every kid likes something new that has only ever belonged to them)
- Christmas gifts (think luxuries like biscuits, cakes, chocolates, sweets and board games)
Donations are not only used by the shelter but are also given out on the door to those who are unfortunate enough to be turned away due to no spare beds.
Raising money to help the homeless
Sure, there’s not much time until college/school/work finishes for the holidays. But it really doesn’t take long to set up a donation day.
- Contact a shelter and find what donations they want.
- Agree with your principal/headteacher/student union/boss that you can have a donation day.
- Get them to agree to your putting a large box or two in a public area that people can fill with the donations that the shelter of your choice is looking for.
- Get your principal/headteacher/student union/boss to promote the donation day in the ways they know best.
- Tell all your friends and ask them to help fill your donation box.
- Then get someone with a car who loves you to deliver the donations to the homeless shelter.
If you’re in a position to be able to do the above, you could really help the homeless this Christmas.
Volunteering with homeless shelters
Shelters nearly always need people to help out with the cooking and serving of Christmas dinner, and also with cleaning up. Loved ones might not be keen on your doing this, because they’re looking forward to spending time with you. That’s fair enough. Then again, Christmas is a long day. Your family might be willing for you and a friend to spend a couple of hours helping out with the cooking at a homeless shelter. Alternatively, you could consider putting in a couple of hours of volunteer work on the days surrounding Christmas Day, and save that day for yourself and loved ones.
Giving presents and care packages
Obviously, you want to respect personal space and not give presents to an individual where they’re not wanted.
To give or not to give a Blessing Bag?
There’s a lot of conflict around how appropriate care packages or ‘blessing bags’ might really be. Typically, these packages contain items related to food and hygiene, including toothpaste, toothbrushes, deoderant, lip balm and all the things you might imagine someone to need if they’re homeless. It can make you feel good to use your money and time to give a blessing bag, but how useful is it, really?
The problem with blessing bags is that their contents make a lot of assumptions about the person they’re being given to. Homeless people have different needs and goals, and gifts like those mentioned above may not always be welcome. Things like soap can be relatively easy to get. If someone doesn’t have a toothbrush or use it, they may feel a need for it – and might not be inclined to start using it just because they were given one. Homeless people may also have different dietary restrictions (like diabetes, or Crohn’s) that you may not be aware of, same as anyone else.
If in doubt, get in touch with a homeless shelter.
Presents for pets?
A pet is a constant source of company for anyone who’s homeless. Buy a marrow or dog treat or two, and see if you can find a spare clean blanket. Wrap the blanket and dog treat tidily with a festive ribbon, put it in a bag, then wonder around until you find a homeless person with a dog. Offer them your present, be your own sweet self, and you’ll be virtually guaranteed to have made their day (and their beloved canine companion’s day, too).
Nadya Okamoto became homeless along with her family at the age of 15. Listening to the experiences of women at a women’s shelter led her to found up a non-profit org called Camions of Care which distributes menstrual products to women and girls who need them.
Periods can be difficult enough to manage, but lack of funds and the challenges of the environment can be particularly difficult for cis women, trans men, non-binary individuals and indeed anyone who gets periods. There’s been a trend going round for given homeless women a purse or bag filled with useful bits like tampons, towels, condoms and the like. To the best of our knowledge, no-one with a period has ever said no to free tampons. After all, you never know when they will come in handy.
A resource-friendly tampon alternative like the Mooncup might also be a useful gift as it can be kept clean easily and re-used every month.
As with blessing bags, this is an area of heated discussion. SERIOUSLY, though. It’s not your place to judge what the money will be spent on.
Money is light, easy to carry and relatively easy to hide on your person. Money gives someone who’s homeless the power and independence to make their own decisions about what they want. You can’t possibly know a person on the streets better than they know themselves. Money can be turned into warm drinks, tampons or new shoes. It can be used to get a bed at a shelter, or to top up minutes on a pay-as-you-go phone.
Gifts are always well-meant. Empathy towards someone right there in front of you – someone who’s often treated as invisible – is vital. Any action you take to make a difference could really help. Whatever you do, your support counts.
If you have further advice on how to help the homeless this Christmas, please get in touch with Mookychick. We will spread the word.