I awoke this morning to a long feed of social media posts about snow in the North Dallas area this morning. Most people think snow is beautiful. I lived a portion of my childhood in Wisconsin and I see snow a little differently. Yes, it’s beautiful, but I only want to see it on a postcard, not outside my window. Everyone seems to be fascinated by the new snowfall, but I’m troubled by it. My first thought this morning was about all of the homeless people that have no shelter. Can you imagine living outside in this cold?
Another issue that has been heavy on my heart is a question I hear often regarding donations of warm items. My friend Lin and I started Project Warm Us four years ago. In year two, we started hearing the question, “What happened to the items I donated last year?” The issue of homelessness is not simple. Each case is different, each homeless person is just that, a person. Those of us who are not homeless are all unique and have our own story. Homeless people are no different, other than they don’t have shelter. Some are veterans with PTSD, some have mental illness, some lost a job, some made poor decisions, some were the victim of another person’s poor choices, some are teens that aged out of foster care at 18, some are widowed, and the list could go on. I would like to answer the question. I’m sure there are more answers than what I have here. These are some things that helped me understand helping homeless people and how our donations work for them.
What happened to the items I donated last year?
Four days ago, right when the cold snap hit, the police in Dallas swept the homeless camps. What does this mean? It means they go out and take everything from these camps, which are the places the homeless call home and where they keep their belongings. They take everything. Coats, blankets, tents, food, toiletries, identification, clothing. . . all of it. Can you imagine leaving your house and coming back to nothing? And that the police took everything? And you can’t get it back? Please understand that this is not a slam on the police, as they are doing what they are told to do. The problem is the system. Sweeping the homeless camps does not get rid of people sleeping on the streets. It just makes it more difficult for them to get in a shelter and to stay warm. I don’t know this for a fact, but I’m guessing their belongings get thrown away. There’s no way for them to recover these possessions.
Unfortunately, there are always new homeless people.
No Laundry Facilities
Chronic homelessness is the stereotypical type that most people think of when they hear the word “homeless.” If you have donated items to the shelterless homeless, they have limited or no access to laundry facilities. How long would your coat last, or would you even want to wear it, if you couldn’t wash it? How about a blanket that’s been on the ground?
I’m going to speak about my past views here for a moment. There was a short period of time where I just assumed all homeless people had their own shopping cart and it’s where they keep everything they own. I think it was a subconscious thing, because obviously that’s a silly thought. The reality is that homeless people don’t have a place to store their belongings. Can you imagine not having a house, but still having your belongings? You can’t lock anything up and you can’t protect your stuff from the outdoor elements. The first rainstorm would fry your electronics, if they haven’t been stolen by that time. How about your clothing? Can you imagine carrying your wardrobe around with you? In the summer, would you carry your coat? Probably not.
I touched on this topic already, but if you can’t store your belongings, they will get stolen. If you don’t believe me, go set something of value outside your house. Keep in mind that valuable for your area might be an electronic device or a nice piece of furniture. Valuable in the homeless world is a coat or blanket.
Some of these warm items simply get worn out. Most of us that have shelter have an entire wardrobe to choose from. If we wore the same clothing and coat everyday, especially with the lack of laundry facilities, how long do you think those clothes would last?
Ways to help
There are many ways you can help. Here are a few things I’ve learned over the years about helping the homeless in healthy ways.
Support organizations that know how to help in healthy ways. Support means volunteering your time, money or other resources. How do you find these places and how do you know what they’re doing to help? Ask your circle of friends or a local church. Mostly, get involved with an organization. That’s the best way to know what they’re doing.
This is the best way to help and to know what organizations are doing to help. I’ve gone on several search and rescue operations with Our Calling. If you’re wanting to understand what happened to the coat you donated, get to know the people you donated it to. It will rock your world.
Give with a joyful heart and with no expectations. The joyful heart is pretty self-explanatory. As for the expectations? Give knowing the person receiving it has freewill to do what they want to do. I think that’s the most difficult part for all of us. I like to think of it this way. If I give selflessly to many in need and even only one person is helped and appreciates the gift, I’ve succeeded.
Also, give from your “good” excess. Our first tendency is to give our leftovers, meaning the things we don’t want. Try giving just one item that matters to you. Something that you may not need, but you really don’t want to part with. This is one of those things you have to try before it will make sense.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. It’s taken me years to understand some of these concepts and how to help the homeless in healthy ways. This is really just scratching the surface. Please respond if you have a story to share or any insights on how you help the homeless. Now that you know where your donations might have gone, how do you feel about it?
Photo credit: thinkprogress.com