THE BLOG
11/30/2012 02:27 pm ET | Updated Jan 30, 2013

Homeless for the Holidays

Well, Turkey Day is over and the malls were packed on Black Friday, and through the weekend, with shoppers trying to catch those quickly vanishing best bargains of the year.

But, what does the holiday season really mean to us and to people living on the streets?

For one, it is a time when we look back at the rest of the year and reflect on what has happened. We are thankful for what the year has brought us: friends, family, work or just generally managing in a tough economy. And this is good, but as we look at people living on the streets of our cities and towns, we know that they probably don't have as much to be thankful for and something weighs on our hearts as we wonder what the holiday season really has in store for them. To most people experiencing homelessness, the season means more hardship associated with colder weather conditions in many states in the US.

During the winter months, homeless service organizations are faced with greater demand on the street, and in their drop-in centers and shelters. So, if you're wondering what to do to help your neighbors without homes, you might want to find out who helps these folks in your neighborhood, around your workplace or near your kids' schools and colleges.

Did you know that over 33,000 college students will be homeless during Winter Break this year? And that, on any given night during the holiday season, 636,000 people in the US will be sleeping on streets and in shelters? There's also a looming crisis that's rarely talked about, but was recently reported on by the National Alliance to End Homelessness: 6.8 million folks are living with friends, family or other nonrelatives for economic reasons - "doubled up" - in the US. This population could easily find themselves living on the streets, with little-to-no financial cushion, if their housing arrangements were to change.

These figures are staggering.

So, as you decorate your home with all the right touches for holiday parties and the like, and your mind keeps drifting back to the woman you saw on the street with a sign in front of her, here are some things you can do to help her and the few million Americans who do not have homes this December:

  1. Think Nationally, Act Locally. Contact your elected officials and ask what their offices are doing to end homelessness in your state and community. Educate yourself about the resources that are out there for your homeless neighbors and spread the word when you encounter someone in need. Sharing information with your homeless neighbors about where they can go to start taking steps toward rebuilding their lives can be absolutely life changing.
  2. Pitch in. Do a sweep right around you and find out what organization is helping people where you are. I can guarantee that that organization is looking for non-perishable food, gently worn coats, volunteer help and your Washington, Lincoln or Franklin bills. No gift is too small or too large.
  3. Start your own Alternative Holiday Giving tradition. If you're looking for the perfect gift for people whose closet doors don't stay shut any more, ask if you might make a financial gift to their local homeless service organization on their behalf.
So how about it? Can you act today and reach out to these folks? Winter is going to be tough this year, we hear, and the community needs you to keep your homeless neighbors safe on the streets.

This holiday season, let's all commit to taking less so others may have more.

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