For those of you who know from experience what homelessness is or have long since decided what to do to ease it, or have decided that you're for it, this won’t be useful. For others, some tips....
No matter what the government tells you, for Main Street, this is an ongoing depression, spilling over. Forty-five percent of the homeless have jobs, sometimes two, but in all 50 states, a minimum wage will not pay for a one-bedroom apartment. Many are paid less than minimum wage. Payments on a compounding student debt are of course many times the original amount, and are taken from even slender restaurant wages. Rosy unemployment stats do not count those who have given up looking; companies do not hire homeless people who do keep looking; and jobs often require a car, compounding the problem of digging out.
Several generations have long since collapsed back into parents and then grandparents’ homes, at that generation trying to save families uses up the nest-eggs saved for old age, as younger generations feeling wrong for taking refuge, try again. In reality, not only our mentally ill and addicted, but old, young, ex-professionals, skilled craftsmen, and little kids are out there.
The crisis has shot straight through our population. People who once had homes are living in cars and tents. In many areas police “roust” people in cars and tents, even in heavy snow, and then take the cars and tents. Homeless people without cars are therefore living on the street or if wilderness-survival-savvy in the forests. Homeless shelters are imperative but often not safe, particularly for women. Families typically keep their kids in school if they can. Many of the charities purportedly collecting for them however instead sell the things which they collect, and winter is here.
First, while the starkest forms of hunger are solved by soup kitchens, malnutrition is a problem. They need fresh fruit.
Second, recognize that these are people being treated as invisible. That makes it harder. Look them in the eyes, acknowledge their existence. If they're busking -- making music -- at least smile and if it's helping to make your day, applaud and contribute.
Third, as Utah has shown, the cheapest way of caring for the homeless is to give them homes. We have SIX empty houses in the U.S. for every homeless person, and many of those houses once belonged to those people now homeless. All bank mortgage payments previously made were lost in the first rapid then slow motion crash,. Then the global banks that caused the crash, the perps, were bailed out but the people weren't.
Angering those who think that the charitable exemption for churches is a crock, there are not only far more empty houses than homeless people in the US but also far more churches, and that's not counting synagogues and other houses of worship. If you belong to an institution claiming tax exemption because it is "charitable", dare it to provide a home for one homeless person. A society that is squandering its resources, that is not the supplier of those resources, is the problem.
Fourth, to keep those of us with homes from being “troubled by” the sight of homelessness, police keep the homeless walking all day, no lying down, only brief sitting, until feet bleed and socks and shoes wear through. They need thick socks, at least a double pair in the winter, almost more than they need shoes. Folks need jackets, wool hats, gloves, hand warmers, blankets.
Fifth, few places will allow homeless people to use a bathroom. They would love soap. A toothbrush. Carry some and pairs socks with you? Both men and women like to be clean. Give wipes. Women, you might carry discrete purses filled with tampons to hand out when you encounter young women.
Sixth, little kids emotionally need and will all their lives remember and treasure toys and school supplies.
Seventh, homeless people of all ages, especially teenagers, cannot walk past homeless dogs without pain. Homeless folks take beautiful care of those pets, currying them, playing with them, keeping them warm and dry. Hungry, most feed their pet friends first. Give dogfood, dog toys.
Eighth, put America back to well-paid work, starting with renovating the energy, transportation and communications infrastructures, and hire qualified but homeless people. Also stump for compassionate effective havens for families with young kids, and for mentally ill or addicted adults who need not simply a roof but skilled care.
While we happily speculate about Game of Thrones (Gee what will happen when Wolf encounters Drogon and will Jon Snow ever know something?), real winter has come....and our people are out there.
Thank you for anything that you can do....