Many things in life can be very annoying, but near the top of the list is the way people behave this time of year. It is a twisted corollary to the plastic facade known as the holiday spirit (you know- where everyone gets all mushy and preaches love and peace for a couple months, then goes back to violence and strife on January first...). This corollary is in part the wonderful idea of helping the homeless. What a great idea indeed, but the same useless means are utilized year after year. The fact that there are still homeless people needing help the next year around, year after year after year, should tell people that their feelgood measures each December just may not be working.
They give money to charities, especially the Salvation Army. While their claim to be "doing the most good" is true in my opinion, what are they doing since people remain homeless? I always donate old clothes and stuff to them and respect their efforts to house and employ the unfortunate. Meanwhile I see their bell ringers each year all over the place. I talked to one last year. He told me his "kettle", actually a clear plastic globe these days, got full and had to be swapped out several times a day. He also said each 'kettle' holds up to $2,000. One day in front of a Walmart he pulled in 10,000. Just him- not the other ones at other entrances or stores. It seems like with that much money they could build a big shelter for all the homeless in the city. But one never gets built. I am sure they use their money wisely, at least more so than other charities, but why are the homeless never sheltered with all that money pouring in?
The shelters already operating are no solution, that's for sure. I personally know someone who has been homeless in two major cities, and that person can tell you a lot about why people are really homeless. How they get that way is a different subject, but trust me it could be you tomorrow. Just like no one wakes up and knows they are going to die in a car wreck today, no one expects to become homeless either. It happens, generally very suddenly and usually to normal people. They become crazy, alcoholic, and/or drug addicted- generally after (because of) living on the streets for years, not before. My friend told me some disturbing things about homeless shelters.
He described how most shelters are very specific as to who they let in. You may have to be a veteran, a single woman with minor kids, an abused woman, black, physically disabled, a drug addict...A married person, a couple, someone without kids, or any of a number of other factors will disqualify you from entering. If you manage to get in, most of them breathalize you, to keep out winos I guess. They also lock the doors at a certain time. One my friend was at locked up at 8pm, any later and you do not get in. So much for finding an evening or night job. With all of these rules, most homeless give up and just stay on the streets. When I went through Omaha recently, I seen homeless people everywhere. They were on every public bench, all around the library grounds, in the parks, in the bus stops, all over. The city's answer to the problem was to tear down a building that 200 destitute families were staying in. They better budget in a new batch of park benches.
The public responds by giving money to the Salvation Army, the Red Cross(corrupt), and other charities so they can have a big turkey dinner on thanksgiving and Christmas. Two meals a year will not keep anyone alive, not even Calista Flockhart. Since the charities are not building living spaces, and the homelessness continues, we the homed need to take a different approach to help these unfortunate people. It may not fix the problem, but will give them some things they really need in the meantime.
Here are a few ideas I have:
-Give them things they can really use, all year. They live outdoors, so help them with that challenge. They need shelter, heat, warmth, dryness, and a way to make a campfire and cook simply. They more than anything could use camping equipment. There are literally tent cities of them near most every metro area. They need camping stuff to survive since the shelters won't let them in.
-They also need to remain mobile, so they can pack up and move fast when the cops roust them, a part of being homeless. They therefore need duffel bags, backpacks, wheeled carts, etc.
-They also need a chance in hell at getting some kind of work, even a daily pay temp job here and there. Give them razors, soap, combs, mouthwash, and other toiletries. If you can spare it, prepaid phones are excellent as it is pretty hard to find work without a phone. If you have an old unused cell phone, they can use it too: any cell even without service can call 911. Charge it up all the way, and give it to them for that purpose. Include the charger as they can plug in outside gas stations and other places.
-Imagine how bored you would get if you had nothing to do but wander the streets all day and night, going nowhere in particular. Give them a big fat novel. Not a bible either- they are tired of people pushing bibles on them. Any book, crossword magazine, or an old rubik's cube even would make their year.
I propose people buy what they can afford to help them, and place it into an old bag of some sort- making a kit. Put together as many kits as you can afford- maybe one a week or one a month even. All year. Drive to the worst part of town and give them to homeless people. They will deeply appreciate it more than a bi-yearly meal.
I have listed some items they could use, and found the prices of some of them at a local department store. I rounded up the prices to cover tax. Notice how cheap these items are, and consider how useful they would be to someone living outdoors:
--WARMTH & DRYNESS--
large body warmer, 18 hrs. apiece, 3 pack - 2.
foot warmer, 6 hrs. apiece, 6 pack - 2.
hooded poncho - 1.
6X8 tarp - 4.50
6X5 tent, sleeps 2 w. carrying case - 20.
tent repair tape - 2.
sleeping bag, 40-60 degree, in carry bag - 10.
solar blanket - 3. (very compact and warm)
brown jersey gloves, 6 pairs - 5.
socks, 10 pairs - 6.50
sweatpants (near universal fit, much cheaper than thermals and very warm. easy to layer)
neck and ear warmers
--LIGHT AND HEAT--
small flashlight with 2 AA batteries - 1.
mini LED camp lantern, uses 4 AA batteries - 5.
magnesium fire starter - 7.
camp soap, 4 oz. - 3.
camp towel - 4.
clothesline kit - 2.
baby wipes- works for a variety of sanitary uses
wash rags- sold in 12 packs usually
bleach quart for water purifying (three drops per five gallons of water is drinkable and kills bacteria, include note about use)-(verify this first, i may have formula wrong)
mini 60 piece first aid kit in bag - 7.
ziploc bags, reg. size and gallon
notebook and pens
books or game magazines
earthenware blue bowl, plate, or cup - 3. each (will last forever)
5 piece mess kit - 6. (aluminum, cheap and effective)
2 quart canteen - 4.
pocket knife - 1.
book on edible plants
FOOD PACKETS--make these too to give out- cheap, easy to cook, nutritious:
multivitamins (to fight malnourishment in underfed people)
french or baguette bread loaves (these breads do not go bad as soon as regular loaves)
All of these items, except possibly duffel bags and backpacks, are very cheap even when bought new. The bags/packs can be obtained from your closets, or second hand stores. If nothing else, put stuff in plastic grocery sacks- just so the items get to these people. They will be so appreciative and grateful, much more than a meal or yet another bible. They want stuff they need, stuff they can really use!
Just do it! If all that crap about peace, love, compassion, and so on is something more than a seasonal load of b.s. to net more presents, then prove it by helping people that need help. Don't feed them once or twice, HELP them, in more long term ways. I dare you, I challenge you, I beg you.
(c) james platt
(c) james platt