Frigid temperatures combined with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic make this winter particularly difficult for people experiencing homelessness. You might not always have time to volunteer at a homeless shelter or similar organization, but there are many ways to assist those in need. Here are some practical steps you can take toward helping people in your community.

How to Help Homeless People in Your Area

1. Learn What Causes Homelessness

Many harmful negative stereotypes and misconceptions exist about the unhoused. While people often blame their situations on laziness or a lack of drive, many come from backgrounds of trauma or intergenerational poverty. You might meet someone with a history of domestic violence, another on the waitlist for affordable housing, and still another working to overcome their addiction. Every individual has their own story that deserves to be heard.

2. Donate Clothing, Food, or Money

homeless shelters

Homeless shelters and nonprofit organizations typically accept donations year-round, but they are especially needed in the winter. Consider what might be useful and practical for someone experiencing homelessness. New or gently used socks, shoes, jackets, blankets, hats, thermal clothing, and sweatpants are common requests. Toiletries and nonperishable food items are welcome as well. If you don't have items to donate, you can also make financial contributions.

3. Start a Fundraiser

If you don’t have money or resources to donate, consider crowdfunding. Online tools like GoFundMe and Facebook allow individuals and nonprofit organizations to raise money for causes they care about. Share your fundraiser with family, friends, and local community groups and forums, then donate the proceeds to a homeless shelter or nonprofit.

4. Look Into Local Politicians

Local elections can have a significant impact on the homeless population. Your area’s political leaders have a say in what resources are provided for unhoused people, and in most cases, their policies about homelessness should be freely available. Check their election website or look for interviews by local news organizations, and be sure to support and vote for politicians who match your views.

5. Offer Your Kindness

One of the most important actions you can take in your everyday life is showing compassion. People experiencing homelessness are often ignored, but everyone deserves to be shown humanity. When you come across them, acknowledge them with a smile, nod, or greeting. If you drive, consider keeping water bottles and snacks in your car to give to homeless people at intersections.

If you would like to volunteer your time or make a donation for homeless families in Detroit, MI, reach out to COTS. Founded in 1982, this nonprofit organization is dedicated to providing emergency shelter, transitional housing, and support services to people experiencing homelessness. They offer a wide range of volunteer opportunities, including donation drives for clothing, fundraising events, housekeeping, and food service. Call (313) 831-3777 to learn more about volunteer opportunities, then fill out an application online.