Often, when we think of the homeless, we don’t picture children as young as 4 or 5 years old sleeping in homeless shelters, cardboard boxes and subway stations. However, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless children under the age of 18 accounted for 39% of the homeless population in 2003 and 42% of these homeless children were under the age of 5.
In fact, due to the recent hard economic times, the number of families experiencing homelessness is amongst the fastest growing segment of the homeless population, throughout the United States. Worse yet, the average amount of time that families experiencing hard times stay in homeless shelters has more than doubled, due to the lack of affordable rental housing and sufficient employment.
Though often statistics make the problem of homelessness appear so overwhelming that many of us feel powerless to help, the fact of the matter is that there is a lot we can do to help those in need. Of course, we all need a place to start so I have put together the following list of charities that depend on the kindness of their community members to help the homeless in highly practical and effective ways.
Donate The Basics
Socksnundies.org is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping the homeless by providing them with the basic necessities of life, that most of us take for granted. Started by Jennifer Maulsby and her mother, a volunteer shelter director, this nonprofit organization accepts donations of new and unused socks, underwear, T-shirts, pajamas and toiletries.
Though to most of us these items may seem trivial, to the homeless they bring a degree of warmth and comfort as well as dignity and peace of mind. For instance, I know that as a woman, having clean underwear is far more than a simple matter of comfort. Likewise, imagine being the parent of a young child who does not have clean socks and underwear to wear after a bath.
Share The Warmth
Winters are cold here, in NYC and a warm coat can literally be the difference between life and death. But, as all parents know kids outgrow their clothes, FAST! And for some families buying one or two warm coats, each year, for each child, is a heavy financial burden.
The above mentioned nonprofit organizations work with volunteers and sponsors within the community to organize coat-drives that keep thousands of children, throughout the United States, warm each winter. The following heart warming message comes from a father of four whose children received their winter coats from warm coats and warm hearts, “I am just so thankful to all of those involved in the warm coat project. I am a father of 4 kids who is having a bit of hard times. But thanks to you this winter will be a merry one full of fun and great memories of playing in the snow and being a family. Thank you”.
Volunteer Your Time
One of the most effective and rewarding ways to help those in need is to volunteer your time. Homeless shelters, across the country, are in desperate need of volunteers to help with such simple tasks as making sandwiches and helping sort donations. The above directory can help you find and contact the homeless shelters in your area.
Stand Up For Kids
By simply texting STANDUP to 85944 you can donate $5 to STAND UP FOR KIDS, a nonprofit organization that strives to help homeless children and runaways under the age of 25, throughout the United States. In 2011, your donations helped this new, nonprofit organization expand to 5 major metropolitan cities and help get thousands of homeless kids and runaways off of the streets.
Tuck Homeless Children Into Bed
Covenant House is a safe haven for thousands of homeless youth in need of shelter and direction in their lives. Unlike most homeless shelters, Covenant House does far more than provide homeless youth with basic necessities such as a nutritious meal and warm bed. Instead, the staff at Covenant House work with homeless youth to help them move down the path to independent adulthood and away from the risk of future homelessness.
By contributing just $35 to this worthy charity you can help them provide over 70,000 homeless children with food, shelter, warm blankets, clean sheets and most importantly, guidance.
Photo courtesy of: http://www.flickr.com/photos/darwinist/