Advocate + Change
Homelessness is complex, but here are some immediate things that anyone can do to help.
Sometimes when we see a person who might not have a home, we don’t know what to do. We might dart our eyes and look the other way. But one of the easiest things we can do is smile. It’s as simple as that. Be kind to people. No matter who someone is or what they look like, everyone should be treated with respect. Simply smile like you would at anyone you pass in your neighborhood or at your office. It can make someone feel like they matter.
Change your practices.
If you are involved in hiring decisions at your place of employment or if you are a landlord, take a look at your policies and personal biases. If a person falls into homelessness, it can be impossible to get out because they no longer have a solid rental history. It becomes a vicious cycle. Sometimes a mistake someone made a decade ago still prevents them from getting a job or stops landlords from selecting their application. Not many of us want to be judged by our past, but some people can’t get away from it. Business owners have to protect themselves and balance risk, but sometimes those policies can prevent people from getting ahead in life. Take a hard look at the decisions you make and the profound impact they can have on others.
The people you vote into office – locally, statewide, nationally – impact homelessness from local ordinances to state laws and spending priorities. There are things that can be done – like incentivizing the development of affordable housing, investing in mental health and addiction programs, funding education, addressing systemic failures in our foster care and criminal justice systems, amending landlord tenant laws – that have a direct impact on poverty and homelessness. Pay attention. Vote. Speak up. Call. Write letters. A good place to start is to sign-up for the Mental Health Association Oklahoma’s Advocacy Alerts to stay up to date on current issues.
Volunteer and donate.
This is one of the more obvious ways of helping. Sometimes it can start to seem old hat, but it is so important. There is more need in this community than any of our nonprofits can meet. Organizations that serve people experiencing homelessness work tirelessly, but it is not enough. They need you. They need your time. They need your money. And they need your stuff. But they all need something a little different. While we’re certain they would all say monetary donations of any size – from $5 to $5,000 – will have an impact, they all have slightly different volunteer and in-kind donation needs. Don’t assume an organization can use your old clothes or craft supplies. Call first. Check out their website. Before you start a canned food drive, ask them – what do you need most? It may surprise you. It might not be food. It might be underwear.
Know your limitations.
It feels good to hand someone a sandwich. And while there’s no wrong way to feed a hungry person, you might not be equipped to walk into a camp and help the people living there navigate a crisis. Sometimes people unintentionally do harm or put themselves at risk. While we are strong advocates of being kind and welcoming to everyone, some things are better left to people with training. We do not advise bringing strangers into your home or venturing into people’s camps. Organizations have trained case managers and social workers who do that. We all have different skills and abilities. Recognize your own and what your personal limitations are.
Collaboration may seem like a buzz word, but it’s important when it comes to meeting the needs of people in our community. We need to collaborate instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, duplicate efforts or do something that isn’t actually helpful. Maybe instead of serving lunch in the parking lot of a place that is already serving lunch, there could be another part of town where there aren’t free meal options. Maybe the 50 sandwiches you made could be combined with 100 from someone else to serve an even bigger meal. If your church or organization is doing outreach or offering services to people experiencing homelessness, consider contacting the Homeless Alliance to get looped into the coordinated system and work together.