Ways to help the homeless -- not just during the holidays

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Homeless individuals on Skid Row, downtown Los Angeles, November 2019. Photo by Amy Ta/KCRW

Los  Angeles has more people living on the streets than any other city. With Thanksgiving approaching, you might be wondering how you can help. 

However, Thanksgiving Day is not the best day to help, points out Alissa Walker, urbanism editor for Curbed LA. That’s because outreach/nonprofit groups already have a lot of people offering to volunteer around the holidays. 

“Wait to save your help for places and times that are not as popular due to the holiday giving spirit,” recommends Walker. 

What if you want to offset your consumption (food, shopping)?

“If you have a Black Friday craving for online shopping … a lot of these shelters and groups have Amazon wishlists, where you can purchase exactly what they want. You could send it directly to them,” says Walker. “If you don't want to use Amazon, you could look at what they need, you could go to your local drugstore or department store and buy it there, and then deliver it yourself in person, which is also sometimes a really nice way to get to know the people who are performing these services in our city.”

What do people need? 

It’s raining this holiday weekend, and some emergency shelters for the winter haven’t yet opened. In the meantime, Walker suggests thinking about what you’d need if you were out in the elements: tents, sleep bags, tarps, warm shoes/boots. She says these are things that neighborhood coalitions and homelessness groups are collecting. 

How do you find out who’s in need?

Walker says the mayor’s office has launched an online volunteer portal, where you can find activities happening near you, that you can get involved with in the short or long term. 

There are neighborhood groups: SELAH (serving Silver Lake, Echo Park and Atwater Village), Ktown for All in Koreatown, and SPA6 (South LA). 

“These are just groups of volunteers that have found a need in their own communities. They do things like on the weekends, bring in people to take showers, and give them food, and help them do laundry. So that's if you wanted to do an ongoing volunteer-type engagement, where you actually got to know the people in your community,” explains Walker. 

You could also get involved with shelters across LA, where you’d help with childcare or resume writing, Walker suggests. 

What’s the best time to begin volunteering? 

Walker suggests signing up for the homelessness count, which happens every January in LA. 

“They train you how to look for people who are experiencing homelessness. And you go out in your neighborhood or somewhere near your neighborhood, and you actually start to count who is living on the streets, in unsheltered conditions,” explains Walker.  “You get connected with the community, you find out who the caseworkers are in your neighborhood. And then from there, they will contact you throughout the year with additional volunteer activities.”

What if you have kids and you want to get them involved? 

Walker says she and her kids are going through all their closets, identifying clothes they no longer need and can donate. 

There are also opportunities to “adopt a family.” Walker explains, “With social services here in L.A., the regional centers that are providing assistance to families, they have an opportunity where … your money is going to help a family. ...So that's a really good example of this one-to-one correlation of your family helping another family.”


--Written by Amy Ta, produced by Rosalie Atkinson