Although it is obviously difficult to accurately estimate the number of homeless in the US, it is conservatively estimated that on any given night more than 1/2 million people utilize the services of a homeless or emergency shelter. USA Today recently estimated 1.6 million individuals used transitional housing or emergency shelters. Of 1.6 million, approximately 1/3 are members of households with children, (up 9% since 2007). The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty found that approximately 3.5 million people, 1.35 million of them children, are likely to experience homelessness in a given year (National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, 2007).
It’s not easy walking passed people in need. Giving something, even just a dollar or some change, can ease your discomfort somewhat, but it is not always possible to give money to every person asking for it. Sometimes you may be uncomfortable giving cash, perhaps wanting to be sure the money will be used for food. Think about offering a gift card to a local fast food restaurant, or even consider carrying granola bars with you. Not everyone will want or appreciate your alternative to cash, but many homeless individuals will be very grateful. If you have nothing tangible available to give, always remember that everyone can give a smile, or even a nod to let those folks know you “see” them. Better still, arm yourself with information about where they might get help: a meal, from a church organization or a bed for the night, etc. Even if they are aware of those services, it is a way to engage. That few moments of conversation might provide great encouragement or at least make someone fess alone.
The last few years we have tried to bring a little bit of the magic of Christmas to the homeless residents of Pinellas Hope. Once again this year we will be providing a special dinner, Christmas gifts and Christmas carols by some of Pinellas County's most gifted singers.