A lot of the world’s problems seem too big for individuals to solve, or even to have an effect on. We know little moves can make a big difference if everyone does them, but it’s easy to get overwhelmed when thinking about the big problems of the world.
One place where we can all make a difference right where we live is with the homeless population. This month #NWArkCares is looking at homelessness, because this time of year we all seem to think more about those people who don’t have shelter from the cold or a place to make merry with family and friends.
Northwest Arkansas Statistics
On any given night where I live, it’s estimated that 2,400 people are without a place of their own to sleep (as of 2013). Thirty-six percent of our homeless population are veterans, while children under the age of 18 constitute 54 percent of the homeless population here.
Between 2007 and 2015, the homeless population has multiplied 22 times, probably because so many people were attracted to the area by jobs. Indeed almost 36 percent of homeless people surveyed said they are employed at least part time. And 17 percent of those who responded to the annual homelessness survey said they had stayed “on the street” the night before, which includes people living in cars, abandoned buildings, in parks or other public places.
What We Can Do
These statistics are staggering and painful, but there are things that all of us can do to help the local homeless population (and that you can do wherever you live as well). Here are a few ideas:
- Donate unwanted, good-condition items to a thrift store (like the Salvation Army) that benefits the homeless.
- Donate food to food banks. While this is a British blogger’s list, so things are a little different here, these are some great ideas of things to donate. I’d never thought about donating cans with pull tab tops, but it makes sense that homeless people wouldn’t have access to can openers.
- Serve meals or volunteer at shelters. I did this once, a long time ago, at the Salvation Army, and it’s really easy to do. The Samaritan Center is another great option, which needs servers for meals as well as other volunteers (see below).
- South Church in Fayetteville accepts donations of tents. Other places may take sleeping bags or blankets, but call ahead to ask (many shelters don’t have a lot of storage and would rather have cash or gift cards to buy warming supplies as needed).
- Donate warm clothes, hats, scarves, etc. Lots of community groups do coat drives or clothing drives, or again call the shelter to ask what they need in terms of items and sizes.
- If your town has a visible homeless population (meaning you see homeless people when out and about), consider making “blessing bags” and keeping them in your car. Thrifty Northwest Mom has good tips and lists for making up these bags, which you could also donate to a shelter. She also has a great post on blessing bag meals, which would be another great thing to donate to a shelter.
- Speaking of bags of food, Samaritan Center makes and distributes snack packs, which include food items ranging from Easy Mac to granola bars, aseptic milk and cereal, which are distributed to kids who might not otherwise get food on the weekends. This doesn’t specifically target homeless people but certainly gets at some of those kids who are homeless if they are able to attend school. We were able to help donate to and pack snack packs through the girl’s school earlier this year and it was really great to see all that Samaritan Center does, from dental clinics to a community garden to a cafe and market where people can eat and shop for free.
- Tie scarves to trees with a note that they are for whomever needs them.
- Host a food drive, ask for donations at holiday parties, or coordinate a campaign at your child’s school.
- Start the tradition of a reverse advent calendar, where every day you add something to a box to be donated at the end of the season.
Unlike a lot of problems in our modern world, homelessness is one problem where we can act locally and make a difference. I’d love to know what you do to help the homeless in your area!