Better Options Than Giving Cash to People Trying to Survive on the Streets

We see it all the time, people on the streets holding their signs asking for money. It breaks your heart to see anyone living on the street and you reach for some cash. This is where I ask you to take a minute and rethink your actions. Cash often does not help. You just cannot be sure how that money is going to be spent. There are better options.

Give them some food or, even better, offer to buy them food someplace nearby and spend a few minutes getting to know them.  Not only do you then know where your money is going but you have also sent a message letting them know that you care and they are worth your time. That is what Washington Wizards rookie Otto Porter Jr. did recently.

Don’t give cash as it could enable an addiction. One report from the Department of Housing and Urban Development found that six out of ten homeless respondents admitted problems with alcohol or drugs. Two-thirds of homeless people reported that drugs and/or alcohol were a major reason for their becoming homeless in another study. They could use your cash to buy the stuff that kills them. Don’t help them do that.

Ask them what they need. According to Leo, who has been surviving on the streets of New York City, “I can go through $100 in a few days. In a week.”  He is being taught how to code and has been supplied with a laptop and books by a tech entrepreneur who offered him a choice of money or training. “He told me I could have a laptop and learn how to do something and I figured it could turn into something more.” The two have now spent an hour a day for a month and the support is helping Leo turn his life around.

Do give to support local nonprofit organizations that serve homeless individuals and families in your community. You can find the best with a quick search: http://www.charitynavigator.org/. Help them to make a difference. These organizations offer food, shelter, clothing, and connect people with services in an effort to get them off the streets forever. Offering care, not cash, works. Almost 2000 people are off the street thank to a program doing that in San Francisco.

Pay for an item that will be delivered directly to help someone survive the streets. We’re preparing for our nonprofit’s  14th annual Thanksgiving Day giveaway of coats, socks, boots, sleeping bags, gloves and other gear needed to help the homeless survive the winter months on the streets. Other events like this take place around the country. Last month, the United Way’s Day of Caring Resource Exchange brought together 100 service providers, along with 600 volunteers, to provide items and services to 1,400 people facing homelessness all on one day at the Seattle Center.

Employ technology as a force multiplier. Look for organizations using crowdfunding to combine small donations to pay for an item or service that can keep an individual or family on track and fighting homelessness. Then, rally your social network to come together to pay for an item or service. Combining $10 donations goes a lot farther than when you give cash to one person holding a sign on the street. Just don’t give them cash.

Patti Dunn founded Survive the Streets in Seattle to help solve homelessness. Her Razoo campaign is raising funds to expand the project into additional American cities.

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