It’s the time of year when people think about giving a bit more; it’s also the time of year when those experiencing homelessness are in the most danger. How many of us are donating a toy, preparing a food basket, or rounding up hats and mittens? These are all thoughtful, caring gifts for which many people are deeply appreciative. I challenge you, however, to think beyond one-time, material gifts.
If the child in the family receiving the toy is on the verge of homelessness, will the toy be just one more item the family has to leave behind on their way into shelter? When families are evicted, storing personal possessions can be an insurmountable barrier. When we can help prevent eviction, we don’t just help that family stay in their home, we help children maintain a sense of stability. We allow them to keep playing with those beloved toys and not have to have adult worries of where they will sleep next.
If the adult receiving donated hats and mittens is homeless, they will still battle frostbite. Michigan winters get so cold that even in cozy knit mittens, finger tips will not stay warm. The snow brings other risks to staying warm. One of the most important rules to surviving winter safely is to stay dry when cold, and snow can present a great challenge to this. A foot care clinic in a downtown church works to help people avoid frostbite to their toes, but for too many the care is not enough to prevent painful losses.
Our community of social service providers is working hard to ensure that families can stay in their homes and our long-time homeless adults with disabilities can finally have a safe home of their own. (If you think this sounds unrealistic, read more about Housing First in our other blogs.) Our goal as a community is to solve the underlying issue so that people’s well-being is not so dependent on charity donations one time of the year.
Please do knit those hats and mittens, fill a food basket, and buy an extra toy—these are great ways to let people know their neighbors care about them—but also donate to help pay someone’s first month rent or security deposit, or bus passes to help with job searches. These are the types of gifts that don’t just say “I care”, they say, “I believe in you; I think you are important, and I believe you deserve a safe place to live.” Isn’t that what we all need?