Image: Caron LeNoir, CARONISM:Photography — So Many Messages

For Your Consideration…

The homeless are not always the nameless faceless people under the bridge. The fastest growing segment of homelessness is families with children, not the mentally ill or beggar. They are entire families, people you work with, go to church and worship with, go to school with and with which we share many aspects of our lives.

They are people like me — talented, skilled, educated, seemingly well-kept, upbeat and positive. I am a formerly homeless disabled veteran. I am also a survivor of domestic abuse. No one knew my status unless I told them (and then it was only about 3 people I thought I could trust). In the coming months, I will share more of my personal story, but for now, I advocate for the abused and homeless and provide as much information to the public, to community and private agencies as I can. It amazes me when people speak of the needs of the homeless, very few actually ask the homeless.

I was classified as chronically homeless. This means no matter how hard I tried, how long I worked or how much money I made, the situations in my life prevented me from getting and/or keeping housing stability. I can now make that statement without shame. My journey lasted years. Although I have experienced some great successes and have lived in beautiful places, illness and injury for me and my children, in rapid succession, with no support, landed us on the street — more than… Let’s just say a lot. More on that later. For now, I want to share some of what I know in the hope that it will begin to shift perception of what it means to be homeless.

There are different classifications of homelessness, determined by institutions and organizations. Something as simple as paying for a single night in a hotel with the last dime a family has can delay or disqualify a family from getting the help they need. For the women and women with children that fill domestic violence shelters and homeless shelters throughout the country, they may not know what they need until they need it. This is in no way an exhaustive list, but it is my hope it will bring clarity to those who wish to donate with some context for more meaningful donations. Please stop donating trash to people in need. Much of what we see on the inside is not fit for human use.

Linens, bedding, blankets — Shelters have limited resources for comfortable sleep. Mattresses are hard plastic and although easily sanitizable, they can cause irritation due to excessive sweat. Extra linens and blankets help cushion and protect the body and skin. Blankets are needed in all seasons, not just winter. A night of rest can work wonders for those in distress.

Books — Believe it or not, homeless people can read. Many hours are spent waiting and books are some of the best ways for healthy escape, albeit brief. Children’s books are in great need. Consider helping a local shelter build a productive and entertaining library.

New underwear — If someone is placed in a situation where they have to leave in haste, the last thing they have is underwear. Consider purchasing undergarments for women and children.

Old cell phones and cell phone cords — Even a cell phone without service can call 911. In cases of emergency, it can be a lifesaver.

Bras — Although this could have been listed in undergarments, bras deserve attention of their own. Homeless women and girls rarely have access to properly fitting or even acceptable bras to search for work, go to school or even go day to day in.

Toilet paper — Real toilet paper is an issue, if it is even available.

Office/School supplies — Not so self-explanatory — including legal pads, notebooks and portable, expanding files. Shelters and emergency services involve a lot of paperwork. A lot. Women with families need a place to keep papers and vital records that are easy to identify and carry with them.

Pill boxes — Homelessness comes with a myriad of physical and mental health issues. Part of being in the system is staying organized with medications for adults and children. Many shelters hold an individuals meds and ration them out. Multi-day pill boxes would help a family stay consistent and on track with one of many health care needs

Bars of Soap / Body wash — This post is not to offend anyone who donated old hotel toiletries. It is to bring to light greater needs that could be better served. Bars of soap and body wash, full sizes (8oz or more) are not often available, if they are, they are split among a lot of people.

Feminine hygiene products — What a woman’s body is designed to do naturally becomes a heavy burden and there is always a deficit. Lately some attention has been brought to the need and I am glad about that.

Fruits, vegetables and foods with nutritional value — Shelters are filled with cheap foods, high in sodium, sugar, grease and many things we know can be catastrophic for those not in good health. It is an ongoing challenge to provide nutritious meals for the poor everywhere. Consider donating better quality foods or garden space.

Transitional Items — flatware, plates, bowls, cups, cookware, towels, washcloths, shower curtains… At some point families need to begin again. Shelters are short term and housing is not readily available, but when it does become available, the money needed to purchase basic household items is not there. Consider collecting and putting together starter kits with donations. There is always a need and it would relieve a huge financial burden.

There is one other thing I would like you to consider: Package your donations for families/individuals. Believe it or not, when good quality donations come in, they are often intercepted by staff and those in need never see it. Now, say what you will about it, it happens all the time and almost everywhere. That is not to say people working within the homeless industry (yes, I said industry) are without integrity. There are many with great hearts for this kind of work and then there are others. Let’s not act like our most vulnerable are not taken advantage of by those closest to them, even in proximity. People are people wherever you go and I will leave it at that. Packaging kits help make it a little easier for families.

We can do more with our contributions. We can do better while we give, while we continue to pray and while we continue to show compassion. We can all help give hope and restore the dignity of those fighting for their lives.

Now, go! Share it.