Over the last couple of years, I’ve had this obsession with wanting to help the homeless of Detroit, and have been trying to find the proper way to DO THAT without causing any offense to anyone in the process.
It’s hard to bring the topic to the forefront, whether that be through writing, or with people being concerned about how we are exposing the homeless people through imagery. A few years back, I submitted a proposal for a fellowship opportunity in a photography series (for those of you who had followed my work for a while, it was part of my ‘Socially Homeless’ project), and through someone closely associated with the project, I was told they denied my application due to “not wanting images of homeless individuals.”
With that stated, I needed to release a disclaimer in saying I am in NO WAY trying to exploit anyone. The purpose of the visuals you are about to watch is that I want to bring AWARENESS to the issue, and sometimes that means we need to disturb and shock people to get attention. Which brings to the forefront this video, themed for the Christmas season:
In partnership with this piece, I wanted to release a list of ideas to assist as far as getting homeless people what they need, but also writing up some ways we as citizens help keep them warm, volunteering to pass out a hot meal, or donating items that will be beneficial to them for their survival, as well as giving them something they can actually utilize. Some of these ideas are more labor-intensive, while others are just as simple as adding an extra step to your routine in the morning. And as always, if you have more ideas, feel free to add them to the comments of this post. We need to do better in order to BE BETTER, and with the materialism that comes with the holiday season, let’s turn that into something that can benefit others.
1. USE YOUR REWARDS
I have been saying this one for years, and have had people tell me “no way, I worked hard for those!” But think about this: If you are not willing to pay out money to help out a homeless person, use your freebie rewards from different programs to get free food items to distribute to the homeless. There should be absolutely nothing stopping you from getting a food or bakery item from Starbucks or Panera and passing it to a homeless person on your trek into the city. Another option: If you’ve got comps from a casino, like for example, Motor City Casino, you can cash out some comps at Little Caesars and snag some pizzas to distribute on your way home.
2. HIT UP YOUR LOCAL WHOLESALER
If you’re willing to drop some cash on this – head over to your local Costco, Sam’s Club, or the newly added BJ’s to snag some items that are non-perishable. Things like this can include Peanut Butter Crackers, Applesauce (preferably in a drinkable package), Granola Bars, single packaged Tuna or Chicken packets, Water Bottles, single packaged flavored drink packets, etc. You can also grab items such as bulk-picks of antibacterial wipes that are skin-approved, bulk packs of gum and mints, and more. These items can be donated or passed out directly.
3. ITEMS SPECIFICALLY FOR WARMTH
Head over to your local dollar store and pick up hats and gloves. You can easily help warm 6 individuals by buying one hat and a pair of gloves for around $12 before tax. Also, another wholesaler plug: I know for sure that Costco carries a huge box of hand warmers. These are activated by cracking them/massaging them to mix the chemicals, and homeless people can put them inside their pockets to keep their hands warm OR put them into their shoes to warm their feet. Considering that there are a lot of homeless people that either die from cold, or end up losing limbs to frostbite, warmth is a major priority.
4. CLEAN OUT YOUR CLOSET
There’s bound to be clothing that you don’t wear anymore that you can share with someone who’s more than willing to use it. Especially if you have coats! Men, women, and children of all shapes and sizes are out there, and rather than donating to The Salvation Army, Good Will, or Value World, check on Google to find your nearest shelter or center for donations. Some will even come to collect them from you. Just make sure they are going directly to homeless individuals in the process. I personally like gathering items and handing them directly to people, but I know some people aren’t as comfortable with that process, so it’s the next best thing.
Soup Kitchens, Churches, and more are constantly looking for people to volunteer to serve the homeless, pass out donations, and the like. There are also a few places you can go to pack boxes of donated foods, like Gleaners, for example, to get food to people in need for the holidays. Just make sure to do your research if you’re passionate in knowing where these items go. There are a lot of organizations that are more of a for-profit scenario, so keep your eyes peeled.
6. BLESSINGS BAGS
With the inclusion of things you can pick up from the store like hats, gloves, non-perishable foods, you can create “Blessings Bags” to pass out to someone when you see them on the street. These items range from Deodorant, Toothpaste and a Toothbrush, Antibacterial Wipes, Toilet Paper, Maxi-Pads, Garbage Bags, Chapstick, Lotion, Non-Alcoholic Mouth Wash, and the items listed above. With women specifically, there aren’t that many places that pass out female products, so the suggestion would be to donate your old purses to the cause, and fill them with things that a female may need.
7. LEFTOVER / EXTRA FOOD
This one, you can go a few different ways. You can make food at home, package up the leftovers and find a homeless person specifically to hand it to. You can get your leftovers packaged up from whatever gastro bars and pizza places you’re at Downtown and find a homeless person to give it to so it doesn’t go to waste. Obviously, don’t give them a half-eaten burger or pieces of things that you’ve put your mouth on. But rather than wasting anything and leaving it behind because you don’t want to carry it with you to your next location, it may be worth it to bag it up and pass it along to someone that needs it.
8. DONATE YOUR OLD CELL PHONE
Fact: Devices that are put out into the world are equipped to still dial 911, regardless of service and sim cards. Taking your old devices and donating them to shelters, or for example, donating them to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, can be the difference between someone getting the help they need and dying/being killed.
9. MAKE YOUR OWN TEMPORARY SOUP KITCHEN
This takes a little more organization on your part, but it’s worth the while. Find a local shelter (we always did the NSO at 3430 3rd Ave, Detroit, MI 48201) and set up across the street on a sidewalk. Ask your friends who would want to be involved, and then get everyone attending to bring something with them. Water bottles, crackers, spoons, napkins, styrofoam cups with lids, Kool-Aid single-serving packets, garbage bags, and of course, soup and a long folding table. While you can do a load of Ramen Noodles, my personal suggestion is something with a little more substance that will fill their stomachs for hours. Here’s my recipe.
1 Bag of Dry Peas
1 Packet of Cubed Ham
1/3 Bag of Potatoes
1 Bag of Baby Carrots
Optional: 1/2 Cup of Diced Onions and/or Celery
Mrs. Dash Table Seasoning
Large Pot (Handles on the side are crucial for Transport)
Directions: Wash dried peas in the colander, put them in a large pot with water, and boil them. Add Diced Potatoes, Bag of Baby Carrots, your optional Onions or Celery, with around a tablespoon-2 tablespoons of Mrs. Dash table seasoning, and boil until easily soft. If you need to know the gauge of that, stick a fork in the Potatoes or Carrots. If it slides off the fork it’s good. If it is stuck or requires pressure, keep boiling. After Carrots and Potatoes are fully soft and the peas have made the soup greenish/softened, add the Cubed Ham. Simmer until heated and soft. If you want to make more, double the recipe.
Transporting The Soup: It gets a little tricky but if you’re using a large pot with handles on either side, you can take either a headband, a scarf, a rubber band, or some form of rope, and tie the lid shut onto the pot. It would also be some added security to use a storage container like for Christmas decorations or winter storage to put the pots in so if you hit a pothole while driving, you don’t have a huge mess (I am speaking from experience).
Once you get to the shelter, set up your folding table, and make a prep station. Someone can then ladle the soup into the styrofoam cups, and each person that has come to help can assist in an assembly line. Go in the order of ladle, hand cup to next person, they put a lid on and grab a spoon, hand to the homeless person. The next person can hand out crackers/napkins, and the final person can hand out bottles of water and the Kool-Aid packets. Then make sure to have the garbage bags accessible so they can throw away their items while done, and you don’t leave a mess.
10. ACKNOWLEDGMENT AND EMPATHY
This is the biggest thing. These are people who don’t have friends or family that care. People who don’t have anyone to talk to other than homeless people at shelters. People who have been, and feel forgotten. They stand with signs on street corners and people don’t make eye contact. They sit on the streets and ask for change and get ignored by people shopping on Woodward. Even if you aren’t willing to hand them money, at least respond to them. “I don’t have any cash, sorry.” Or “I do not have cash on me, but maybe I can get you something from the store or something to eat from a fast-food restaurant?” Is that so hard?
Now I know, you might not be comfortable talking to these people, but at the same time, they are just as much of human beings as you are. And yes, maybe they did do something that landed them in the position that they are in. Maybe they didn’t. Maybe they are running from an abusive parent or relationship. But for a second, imagine being them. Imagine being in the cold. Hungry. Alone. Suffering from sickness or mental illness. Now, I’m not saying let your guard down or go alone to talk to homeless people, but in a safe and visible environment, if someone speaks to you, sometimes the best thing you can do is to talk to them, even if it is to show that they are not being ignored. That makes all the difference.
There was a time in which I was walking through Greektown and I was stopped by a gentleman, asking for change. I struck up a discussion with him. I was in a public place, visible to onlookers. I told him I didn’t actually have any cash (I typically don’t), and he said, “Thank you for answering me. I can’t tell you how many people I have asked today for change, and they just walked by me like I didn’t exist.” I sat down on the curb and talked to him for a few minutes. He told me his story. Now, you don’t have to do this, but for me, it was a big reminder of the fact that their lives are so much harder than ours. Even if you’re struggling to make ends meet, we are still much better off than they are. And if you have nothing left to give, give them a minute of your time. It does make a difference to them.
If you have any suggestions for other ways to assist the Homeless Population, feel free to leave them in the comments. Though this piece is directed more toward a Detroit-based audience, anyone with a Homeless population in their neighborhoods and cities can use some of these tips to help the people in their area.