Understand and act
Critical to advocating for solutions to homelessness is first knowing and understanding homelessness and all the issues that surround it. That's vital because there are many myths about homelessness, such as most individuals are homeless because of drug and alcohol abuse or mental illness. However, research shows poverty is the number-1 cause of homelessness, especially in Vancouver where housing costs are the highest in Canada.
The second step to being an advocate is making a personal decision to act. That means committing yourself to changing the world, not just playing your decision out in your head.
Our website is a great resource for understanding more about homelessness in the Metro Vancouver area.
30 ways you can make a difference
Tip 1: Understand who the homeless are. There are many reasons individuals become homeless – mental illness, job loss, addiction, personal tragedy and financial hardship are just a few reasons.
Tip 2: Acknowledge the homeless, rather than ignoring or dismissing them. Everyone wants to be treated with respect and not feel like they're invisible. A simple smile or polite conversation goes a long way with individuals who are often starved for attention.
Tip 3: Donate clothing to shelters rather than putting them in donation clothing bins. If you give your clothes to a shelter it will be used by someone in your community and not sold or recycled. Keep this in mind the next time you do your spring or fall cleaning.
Tip 4: Volunteer your company, organization or school to volunteer at a shelter or raise money through raffles and fundraising events. Then ask your employer to match the funds you raise. Donate the proceeds to front-line non-profits that work with the homeless.
Tip 5: Volunteer at a shelter. Non-profit service providers like the Lookout Society are always in need of volunteers to help with a variety of tasks. It's also a great educational experience to learn about homelessness.
Tip 6: Teach others about homelessness. If you've volunteered or become involved with a front-line non-profit like Lookout Society, you can share your experience with others. Other actions include writing letters to the editor of local newspapers and encouraging discussions of homelessness during political elections.
Tip 7: Respond with kindness. If a homeless person asks you for help don't ignore or brush them off. Speak to the person in a manner you like others to address you. If you can't help them with money then you can always give them a bus ticket, coffee, food or a smile.
Tip 8: Donate your skills. Homelessness service providers run on tight budgets and are frequently in need of professional assistance. That includes doctors, hairdressers, lawyers, renovation experts, dentists, musicians, teachers, celebrities, cooks and just about every profession you can think of.
Tip 9: Donate household items. Lookout Society and other homelessness service providers are constantly finding homes for clients. When they move in they often have nothing to start their new lives. Kitchen items and furniture donations help people make the transition from homelessness to a home.
Tip 10: Advocate for the preservation of affordable housing. Unbridled development and gentrification of neighbourhoods like the DTES can result in the loss of affordable housing. Support initiatives to preserve this housing and endorse mixed housing if development does occur.
Tip 11: Have a party. Any time you organize a social event with friends and family find ways to fundraise and collect donations for shelters and frontline service providers like Lookout. Silent auctions, games of chance, swear jars, cash donations instead of gifts and just passing around the hat are just a few ideas.
Tip 12: Make a list. Contact your local shelter and homeless frontline service provider and ask for the wish list – often things like food, furniture, clothing, computers, cooking and kitchen items, etc. You can then donate items they need, publicize the list or ask others to help. Scouring Craigslist for wish list items is another option.
Tip 13: Pack bus tickets. If you regularly encounter homeless individuals, pack along some bus tickets that you can give away.
Tip 14: Support homeless shelters, housing and programs in your neighbourhood. Don't be a NIMBY. Learn more about what's planned before you pass judgment.
Tip 15: Donate a bag of groceries. Both extreme weather shelters and regular shelters are always in need of food donations. The less money they have to spend on food, the more they get spend on programming.
Tip 16: Protest against laws that criminalize homelessness and targeting of homeless people by police and municipal officials. Fines and law enforcement aimed at homeless individuals are counterproductive to the goal of ending homelessness.
Tip 17: Don't pity those who are homeless. When speaking with people living on the street know that your pity will only add bad feelings they may already have about themselves. Instead, respect and encouragement are things you can offer people.
Tip 18: Small things make a big difference. Stuff your pockets with handy items that you can handout. Coffee cards, gift certificates, a pair of socks or gloves, tooth brushes, combs and a bar of soap are some ideas.
Tip 19: Dispel homeless stereotypes: Don't tolerate beer hall opinions of homelessness. There are a lot of uniformed viewpoints, like homeless individuals want to live on the streets. In reality the street-entrenched homeless make up a fraction. Another fact, Lookout Society's shelters are filled to capacity each night and we are forced to turn away more people than we let in. You can find more facts in Lookout's annual report at www.lookoutsociety.ca.
Tip 20: Help people fill out forms. Applying for government aid or services can be like trying to navigate a maze blindfolded. Volunteers can help homeless individuals get through that maze.
Tip 21: Hire the homeless. One of the biggest challenges facing homeless individuals is trying to find work. Many employers will not hire someone if they don't have a phone number or fixed address. That small job you hire someone for could make a big difference over the long term.
Tip 22: Lobby your MP to support a national homeless and housing strategy that would ensure secure adequate, accessible and affordable housing for all Canadians.
Tip 23: Create a list of local shelters and services. You can put all that information on a card that you can hand out to those who are homeless or need assistance. Most of the information can be found on the BC211 website (www.bc211.ca).
Tip 24: Grow veggies and fruits. Many of the food donations given to shelters and food banks are non-perishable food items while fresh and nutritional foods are in short supply. Donate those fruits and veggies you grow.
Tip 25: Teach. Volunteer at a shelter, drop-in centre or non-profit housing residence as a computer instructor, resume writing coach, interview skills advisor, etc. Lookout believes helping people help themselves is essential in addressing homelessness and all the issues that surround it.
Tip 26: Drive. Volunteer drivers with their own vehicles are often needed by shelters to do everything from picking up and dropping off food donations to moving furniture and belongings.
Tip 27: Buy and read Megaphone, Vancouver's street newspaper sold by homeless and low-income vendors. Stories published in Megaphone give a public voice to those who should be heard.
Tip 28: Pace yourself. If you donate to a homelessness service provider don't just give during Christmas, Thanksgiving and other times of the year when homelessness is in the news. The need for shelters, housing and programs is all year round.
Tip 29: Buy a toque. The first Tuesday in February is Toque Tuesday all across Canada. Volunteers sell toques for $10 and eight dollars from each local toque sale goes to the Lookout Society and Pacific Community Resources Society so we can continue to end homelessness one person at a time.
Tip 30: Remember. We must remember that no one ever chooses to be homeless. It can be the result of poverty, an abusive relationship, physical injury, mental illness, addiction, chronic health conditions and sometimes government policy.