Accurate measures of housing insecurity are difficult to come by, but those who study the issue agree that it’s much more widespread than commonly believed.
According to some measures, as many as 15 percent of all U.S. households experience housing insecurity. This includes “rough-sleeping” households spending nights outdoors and people who utilize homeless shelters as well as a much larger population of households “doubled up” with relatives, friends, and neighbors — people with no fixed address to call their own.
There’s a distinction between these two groups, to be sure, but to some extent it’s a distinction without a difference. By definition, all households experiencing housing insecurity are precariously close to true homelessness, even on nights when they can count on warm beds and roofs over their heads.
This precariousness underscores the need to ensure that homeless shelters and other charities have the resources and capacity they need to accommodate those truly living on the edge. And for that to truly be the case, we all need to pitch in.
With that in mind, let’s explore seven strategies that we can all take to maximize our impact in the fight against homelessness.
- Donate Your Time, Even If You Don’t Have Much
We’re all busy, sure. But most of us can spare an hour or two each month to give back. Volunteering in a shelter or participating in a canned food or clothing drive is a fine way to use that spare hour or two. Eventually, as you grow more comfortable in these settings, you may find yourself devoting more time to the cause or taking on volunteer roles of greater responsibility.
- Work Through Faith Organizations and Leaders in Your Community
Faith-based organizations and their leaders have long led the fight against homelessness. Even if you don’t consider yourself a believer, allying with these organizations is a reliable way to magnify your impact. After all, individuals can do truly amazing things when they act in groups, especially when motivated by a higher purpose. That’s how members of relatively modest-sized congregations like New York-based V1 Church collectively donated gifts worth $300,000 to area homeless shelters.
- Organize Your Neighborhood
Can’t find a suitable faith organization to give back through? Take matters into your own hands by organizing a neighborhood-based volunteer effort, perhaps through a homeowners’ association or block club. The medium might be different, but the principle is the same.
- Host Food and Clothing Drives
Speaking of taking on greater responsibility: Why not be the change you want to see in the world by organizing and hosting a food or clothing drive? With a centralized drop-off location and word-of-mouth awareness-building, you’ll have little trouble convincing your friends and neighbors to donate.
- Find Ways to “Donate” Your Talents
Maybe it’s time to dust off your resume and awaken long-dormant skills that homeless shelters and advocacy organizations could use. Grant-writing? Check. Social work? Check. Event planning? Check. Your skills are worth more than you realize, and they’re needed now more than ever.
- Ask Shelters and Their Allies What They Need
Not all gifts are worth giving. Before you make a contribution to your local homeless shelter or homeless advocacy organization, honor its dignity by asking its leaders (and clients) what they really need. You might be surprised by the answer.
- Lobby Your Elected Representatives to Raise Awareness
We shouldn’t “pass the buck” for all our shortcomings to the officials we elect to represent us, to be sure. But we should also recognize that these officials have more power than the average person. It’s incumbent upon us to make sure they hear our voices, and our love for the housing-insecure among us, so that the very real policy needs of this vulnerable population don’t get lost.
How Are You Making an Impact in Your Community?
Housing insecurity and the housing crisis responsible for it affect everyone, from the most fortunate among us to those living without the certainty that they’ll have a warm bed waiting for them at the end of the day.
Each of us has a responsibility to do what we can to improve the situation. That might mean volunteering at a homeless shelter, organizing a canned food or clothing drive, or working with a faith organization like V1 Church to make a lasting impact. What we do is less important than taking that first step toward action.
As we reflect on what a difficult year it’s been and give thanks for what we do have, let’s not forget those who aren’t so lucky. Let’s all think about how we can make an impact in the communities we call home — and, just maybe, magnify that impact beyond our wildest dreams.