A major winter storm will have more than 100 million people in the US under winter weather alerts this Christmas weekend.
But for those who call city streets home, heading inside is not always an option.
Instead of walking by, here are a few ways you can help:
From your smartphone you can connect someone desiring shelter with support. The Salvation Army claims to have a presence in nearly every zip code across the country. And every location can serve as a warming station.
The organization is tailoring responses to fit the unique needs of each of its communities — including areas caught up in the current cold snap. People can locate their nearest Salvation Army center through the organization’s online location finder.
“The Salvation Army is involved coast to coast in dealing with the challenges of these extraordinarily cold days,” the Salvation Army’s national commander, Kenneth Hodder tells CNN.
He points out that a roof over one’s head doesn’t necessarily mean heat in one’s home. Millions of financially squeezed Americans are forced to prioritize paying for housing over utilities or food.
For these individuals, Hodder recommends placing a call to 1-800-SAL-ARMY to connect with helpful resources.
“If they do not have enough heat, if they are stranded as a traveler, if they find their children don’t have enough blankets … we’ll get to them and we will provide what help they need.”
In addition to Salvation Army resources, shelters are also accessible through the US Department of Housing and Urban Development’s shelter finder here. The site also provides directions to food pantries and health clinics.
On cold days, a hot homemade meal can go a long way. So consider making meals and delivering them to those living outdoors.
Mei Cobb, of the United Way, has seen volunteers make hot meals in group kitchens and distribute them in places where people experiencing homelessness often gather.
“Some are actually putting together a meal that can be heated,” Cobb tells CNN.
In 2018, The United Way launched its Ride United Last Mile delivery program in partnership with Lyft and Doordash. Donations toward this initiative help bridge a transportation gap between food pantries and vulnerable populations.
The United Way also says many of its local partners are accepting winter coat donations. By donating a gently used coat though a local United Way chapter, someone living outdoors may have better protection against frigid temperatures. To maximize efforts, at-home volunteers can organize a clothing drive among family and friends, with support of a local United Way chapter.
“To really address issues, people can get engaged as a volunteer. They can give their time, their talent and so many United Ways are doing a variety of programs whether it’s putting together clothing, making sure folks have a warm winter coat, a scarf, and mittens, or boots … even hand warmers.” Cobb says.
“They can contact the local United Way or contact a shelter or a program in their community,” she explains to CNN.
The United Way also encourages those who want to help to use the 211, non-emergency hotline, which serves as a connection point for referral services and resources in one’s own community. The United Way recommends directing individuals to this hotline number for timely, direct relief.
“It will share with you resources in your community for whatever the need may be —whether its homelessness now or any issues you maybe faced with.” Cobb explains.
Another way to support those facing homelessness is by providing local shelters with hygiene and care kits. The Bowery Mission in New York City put together a comprehensive list of needed items to support their work. The list includes travel-size shampoo bottles, deodorant, non-alcoholic mouth wash, and other essential hygiene goods. Loose items can be placed in a backpack for easier transport to kit recipients. To personalize kits, consider leaving a homemade note of encouragement for added emotional wellness.
Texas-based non-profit Our Calling empowers everyone to digitally volunteer with one swipe on a smartphone. The organization features a public app that serves two purposes: helping those in need find nearby shelters and enabling users to facilitate the distribution of aid to those dwelling in street encampments.
Our Calling says its app works nationwide, sending local findings to the right city’s homelessness response team. The app features over 100,000 agencies across the country. The software also allows users to submit services not yet included in the app’s data base.
Every organization featured in this piece made clear that financial donations are always needed. It is a powerful way people can help from miles away and make lasting impacts that meet needs both now and later, when things thaw out.
You can donate to any of the organizations featured in this article by clicking this link or the button below: