Doling out cash on the streets is hardly the only way to help the homeless. In fact, placing your dollar into a panhandler’s cup may not be much help at all if that money doesn’t go toward food, shelter, medical care or other vital needs. To make sure your money and efforts go to the right cause, use these easy ways to help the homeless instead:

  1. Give toiletries. You may never use those little bottles of shampoo and lotion from hotel bathrooms, but these simple grooming items can be a big help to a homeless person. So can those toothbrushes and small tubes of toothpaste you get from the dentist’s office.
  2. Shop at thrift stores that use profits to help the homeless. Habitat for Humanity, for example, has ReStores that sell home-improvement tools, appliances and furniture. Many others, like Goodwill, sell clothing and accessories. Not only will you help the homeless, but you’ll help save the environment by buying used.
  3. Volunteer at a soup or holiday meal kitchen that feeds needy and homeless people. All major cities have them, and a few hours of your time can help hundreds of people get their nourishment.
  4. Offer food to people on the streets. Get an extra lunch to go, and hand it to a homeless person as you leave the restaurant. Or, buy an extra sandwich or burrito from the supermarket next time you get groceries.
  5. Donate clothing and blankets. The streets get cold — especially over the winter holidays — and one of the best ways to help the homeless is to keep them toasty with warm coats, pants and comforters.
  6. Help homeless people get government assistance. Plenty of programs exist to help homeless people find shelter, food and jobs. But they may not advertise, and the application process can seem daunting to someone without any resources. By learning of assistance programs near you and helping the homeless access them, you may help them get off the streets for good.
  7. Ask someone what they need. If they have a splitting headache, buy them some aspirin; if they’re dehydrated, spring for a large bottle of water.

Organizations that Help the Homeless

The easiest easy way of all to make a difference is to donate money to organizations that do the work for you. Many accept online donations, so you don’t even need to leave the couch. Reputable organizations include Feeding America, National Coalition for the Homeless,  Volunteers of America and the National Alliance to End Homelessness. If you don’t have money to spare, why not volunteer with one of these groups?

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