One of the hardest things is passing a homeless person on the street and wondering, “what can I really do to help this person?” Giving food or money doesn’t feel like enough (they’ll still be in a hopeless situation tomorrow, right?!) and often it’s hard to know what they really need. Homeless shelters are often in need of volunteers and donations, but sometimes the wrong help or donation can stretch other resources too thin. When you’re considering how to help at a homeless shelter, do your research and make sure that you’re offering the support that they need.
One thing you do need to know is that most local homeless shelters require a background check. This means that for most volunteering opportunities, you need to fill out several forms, go through orientation, and wait for potentially up to 30 days before you can start helping out. As you begin to decide how you can help, before you settle on what you really want to do, keep in mind that the best way to begin help is asking what they need.
Serve a meal
Serving a meal is often what people associate with volunteering at a shelter and it is one of the most simple & effective ways to help out. If you’re unsure about how much time & effort you are able to commit to volunteering at a shelter, this is a great way to get a feel for things, ask questions, and get your foot in the door. From grabbing a large group of friends or family to going on your own, you’ll always be helping by providing this easy service. Unlike other volunteering opportunities, shelters typically do not require a background check for people who serve meals.
Every shelter has different needs, so the best thing to do when you’re considering making a donation, is to pick up the phone & ask. However, there are usually items, food, & materials that homeless shelters are typically in need of. These include:
Travel sized toiletries (Tampax + pads included!)
Perishable foods such as fruits, veggies, milk, eggs, yogurt, etc.
*Donating second hand can often be more of a nuisance to a shelter than a help because volunteers have to sort through what they can use or not, so try to donate new.*
If you’re committed to fighting to make a permanent difference in the lives of the homeless in your community, there are many great ways to volunteer at your local shelter on a consistent basis. Just be aware that you may have to fill out paperwork & wait up to 30 days before you can start volunteering. Ask the shelter what they specifically need help with, but here are typical ways that you can help:
Offer access to showers and laundry
Guide a family through their food & clothing store. Shelters usually provide a variety of services for the homeless and need compassionate volunteers to organize donations and hand them out to families or individuals in need.
Prepare meals. Homeless shelters cook in bulk, so helping with food prep, dishwashing, and making meals is a great way to help on a consistent basis.
Provide a professional service. If you are skilled in something, the homeless in your community often need care beyond food & a bed. Some great additional ways to provide support is by car maintenance, legal support, mental health help, or teaching technical skills.
Reset a shelter. With all the foot traffic coming in and out of a shelter, they get dirty extremely quickly. Find a group of friends or family and deep clean your local shelter every Saturday.
Additional ways that you can help out at a homeless shelter: answer phones, sort mail, listen to stories, babysit kids, fix a leaky toilet, mop the floors, donate money, provide transportation, or give job training.
Do you have a heart for the homeless population in your city? Find a friend or two and commit to volunteering this Christmas season!
This is the third blog in a 3 part series: organizations to volunteer at this December.