On any given night in America, more than 600,000 people experience homelessness, according to USA Today.
A recent 5-part New York Times feature places a face on the horrors of homelessness.
With the holidays approaching, you may feel moved to help the homeless in your own community. If you’re looking for community service opportunities that help provide others with affordable housing, here’s a guide to help you get started.
Homelessness in America
Homelessness is defined as living on the street for more than one year or experiencing four or more short bouts of homelessness over a recent period of time. Of the 600,000 homeless people in America, roughly a third are families. 13 percent are military veterans. 16 percent are considered “chronically homeless,” those who have been homeless over a long period and typically have a disability.
According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, Americans become homeless for a number of reasons. Families often become homeless as the result of an unforeseen financial crisis like foreclosure, medical emergency, death in the family or a lack of good job opportunities. For individuals, homelessness is often the result of a disability, mental illness, domestic violence or a lack of affordable health care.
There are many reasons why a person may become unable to afford housing. Whatever the situation, homelessness is typically the result of complex circumstances that force people to make tough choices between food, housing and other basic needs.
Fight homelessness in your neighborhood
If you’d like to help make a positive impact on the homeless issue in your community, there are many ways that you can help, from making donations to volunteering your time.
Here are a few national volunteer organizations working to help fight homelessness and create affordable housing:
- Move for Hunger. Working in partnership with professional moving companies in 47 states, Move for Hunger collects non-perishable food items from people who are moving to new apartments. Instead of throwing away your extra food when you move, you can call Move for Hunger and have them come to your apartment to pick up donations.
- Dress for Success. Providing suits to women who have job interviews, Dress for Success aims to empower women to get back on their feet after hardships like homelessness. You can donate your new or nearly-new professional attire to the organization or give money, which is used for career assistance programs. Whenever you clean out your closet —whether you’re moving or not — you can donate to a local chapter of Dress for Success. They accept donations year-round.
- National Alliance to End Homelessness. The National Alliance to End Homelessness suggests there are many ways you can work to end homelessness, ranging from writing your lawmakers about policy to participating in fundraising efforts or working for Housing First organizations that provide apartments for the homeless.
- Mercy Housing. Helping to provide affordable apartments for everyone, Mercy Housing operates apartment communities for low-income tenants. You can volunteer by helping with maintenance around these communities, by tutoring or teaching job assistance or financial education classes, or by providing administrative support.
Looking for more ideas? Search online for opportunities in your neighborhood or surrounding areas. A good resource to consult is Volunteer Match, a website that allows you to search for non-profit organizations in your own backyard. From the main page, you can browse community service opportunities by issues you care about, including homelessness.
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