How You Can Help During the Holidays

Giving to an Agency is Still Helping And They Can Multiply Your Donations to Serve Hundreds

Each year as the holidays approach NEOCH receives many calls from well-meaning individuals wanting to personally help the homeless by taking them gifts, blankets and food.  We are asked where the homeless gather and where they can find the tent cities, the homes that unsheltered people live in.  The following is NEOCH’s response to those requests.

It is not the best public policy to encourage people to stay outside with the hope that a Good Samaritan will come by to help a guy struggling with mental illness, anger issues, addiction or PTSD.  We encourage homeless people to go inside to libraries, drop in centers and meal programs during these cold weather days. 

We do not provide home addresses of homeless people because no one wants a stranger showing up at their home offering gifts.  No one would want the Coalition to give out the home address of the readers of this blog so that some well-meaning religious person could show up at theirdoor to offer you something that you did not ask for.  It is dangerous to be wandering around the streets of Cleveland with presents to give out to random people who look homeless.  You may be hurt by an addict looking for a score.  If you really want to give directly to an individual then give to a panhandler who is visible typically in a well lit area, but understand that most panhandlers are not homeless and whatever they say on their signs are most likely hype similar to advertisements for free phones by cell phone companies.

There are many agencies who spend the whole year developing relationships with homeless people.  Give to them if you want to help or you can volunteer with them.  These agencies and outreach workers know the needs of each one of the unsheltered homeless and can best meet those needs if they are the ones handing out the donated items.  These agencies have professionally trained staff to help and they are aware of the dangers and mental issues of their clients.   Here are a few agencies who employ staff to go out and help those living rough outside: Care Alliance, Metanoia, 2100 Lakeside, Frontline Services, CWRU Labre, St Ignatius Labre, Salvation Army,  JCU Labre, Sub Zero Mission and the VA.

There was a really good episode of the TruTV series Adam Ruins Everything called Adam Ruins Giving who busts many of the myths about canned food drives, donating and clothing drives.  He publishes the facts referenced in the episode here.  The show pointed out an agency like NEOCH, the Foodbank, Salvation Army, or West Side Catholic can take your cold hard cash and turn it into serving hundreds of people.  We can have staff search around for businesses who will give us a deep discount or even free stuff because they have a relationship with us.  We got a donation a couple of weeks ago and the donor was wanting to spend a thousand dollars at an Army Navy store for homeless people, but the owner had to charge retail prices for the items.  Instead the donor gave to NEOCH and we got 35% more for our money at the same store, because the store can donate to a non-profit but could not donate to an individual.   I know it is not as personal as giving directly to a person, but it is way better for society. Yes, all the non-profits have overhead and administration costs, but that just means paying a person to call around for the best price and then going over to pick up the items and prepare them for distribution. 

We have a number of places on our website that you can volunteer and directly serve homeless people. As mentioned in the Plain Dealer story there are plenty of places to donate who provide items directly to homeless people.  They include:

I know you have seen it on TV or on the movies that you want to brighten the day of the less fortunate during the holidays.  But homeless people need help year around and are overwhelmed with food, presents, and good will during the holidays.  They are often burnt out from all the good will and may not be appreciative of the help.  Donors may be disappointed that the homeless person does not seem appreciative of the help.  Many are dealing with overwhelming life issues and are carrying heavy burdens or struggle with a mental illness which may make them lash out.   We cannot give out the "home" addresses of those struggling with housing.   If you want to help the homeless community there are plenty of better ways to do that.  Even with the best intentions,  just popping into a homeless gathering place with a few presents could cause more problems than not.  You may not have enough for everyone, causing resentment and calls of favoritism or hurt feelings.  Finding someone who already works with this population and knows the people personally is the best way.  Check out the website for good ideas for helping.

Happy Holidays!

Brian Davis

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