Here's what you can do to help people experiencing homelessness this holiday season

Carlo Allegri/ReutersA homeless man sits with a sign on Lexington Avenue in the Manhattan borough of New York, January 4, 2016.

Walk the streets of any major city in the US and you are likely to encounter people who are experiencing homelessness.

According to a report released in September by the Council of Economic Advisers, more than 500,000 people are homeless in America. About 200,000 of them are living without shelter on the streets.

In many cases, homelessness stems from a string of unfortunate events. A lack of support from family or friends can make it difficult for people struggling to get back on their feet. And once someone is homeless, other issues can take hold, including mental and physical illnesses, isolation, and substance abuse.

But there are actions you can take that could help. Here are five ways you can make an impact.


1. Educate yourself and others

Carlo Allegri/ReutersKeith Rosario sits with his cats Storm and Molly (L) as he panhandles on the street outside Pennsylvania Station in the Manhattan borough of New York, January 5, 2016.

The first, and perhaps most important thing you can do is to educate yourself about the root causes of homelessness and why it is so widespread. Then you can share that knowledge with others.

The US Department of Housing and Urban Development keeps vital statistics on homelessness around the country. The department also issues a comprehensive assessment report every year.

The National Alliance to End Homelessness provides helpful webinars, interactive tools, maps, and training materials to bring you to speed on the most important issues.

You can also follow Business Insider’s and other news outlets’coverage of homeless issues.

It’s worth remembering that those you can see on the streets are only a portion of people who are homeless. Many are sleeping on couches, in cars, or at shelters.


2. Donate to a charity

Spencer Platt/GettyA homeless man’s sign rests on the street on December 21, 2015 in New York City.

These are 12 organisations that received four out of four stars by Charity Navigator, an independent nonprofit that rates charities based on their financial management and accountability.

Here are links to their websites, listed in alphabetical order:

Avenues for Homeless Youth

Coalition for the Homeless (Chicago)

Coalition for the Homeless (Florida)

Coalition for the Homeless (New York)

Healthcare for the Homeless

Homeless Empowerment Program

Homeless Prenatal Program

Open Your Heart to the Hungry and Homeless

SAVE, A Friend To Homeless Animals

The Homeless Families Foundation

Transitions Homeless Recovery Centre

Union Station Homeless Services


3. Volunteer

Lucy Nicholson/ReutersSadegh Nematpour serves food to homeless people on Skid Row in Los Angeles, California, in 2017.

Sometimes it’s best to go out and meet the people you hope to serve. This way, you can make connections and really help people.

During winter, collect gloves, hats, jackets, and other pieces of clothing from friends and family and give them to people sleeping on the streets. Winter boots can be particularly useful donations. Many homeless shelters or organisations accept in-kind donations, as well.

If you’re so inclined, knit a scarf or hat. In many northern cities like Boston or Chicago, it can be brutally cold to travel outside, let alone sleep in the frigid temperatures.

You can also volunteer at soup kitchens that provide free food for those in need, or work shifts at a local homeless shelter. Many of the charities we listed, like the Coalition for the Homeless, have volunteer opportunities.

All you need to do is browse the website or give them a call to see what you can do in your community. You can also check out Volunteers for America for more ways to get involved.


4. Contact your lawmakers

Ashlee Espinal/ReutersAn activist holds a sign while taking part in a protest in support of anti-homelessness in New York on March 13, 2017.

Call, email, or send a letter to your elected officials to urge them to support legislation and funding measures that help combat homelessness.

You can browse through homelessness and emergency shelter-related legislation currently being considered in Congress here.

Homelessness is pervasive. It’s not a new problem. This can make it difficult for members of Congress to realise the urgency of the matter. Your voice could help push them along.


5. Treat those you interact with like people

Spencer Platt/GettyA woman walks by a homeless man along a Manhattan street on November 30, 2017 in New York City.

It’s worth remembering that many different factors can cause a person to be homeless. And it can go along way to acknowledge people, make eye-contact, or say hello.

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