With parts of the U.S. experiencing their coldest temperatures in decades, CNN has published a handy list of ways people can help the most vulnerable Americans–the homeless–during this trying time:
- Direct them to shelters. Homeless populations are particularly vulnerable since they have significantly fewer places to take refuge from the weather and less ways to protect themselves outside.
- Hand out care packages. Nancy Powers with the Salvation Army’s Chicago Freedom Center suggests keeping care packages in your car to give to the homeless, especially people who refuse to go to shelters. She said that “shelf-safe food, tuna or chicken in packets” are good items to include. To help ward off frostbite, Powers recommends including gloves, socks, hand warmers, and even shoes.
- Call shelter hotlines. About 60 cities, including New York, Chicago, Boston, Washington and Baltimore, maintain a 311 number to report a person who needs help on the street and that can connect you to homeless outreach teams. Another good number to know is 211 — a shortcut that will help connect about 90 percent of the U.S. population with local, essential community services. If the homeless person is a veteran, the Veterans Administration also has support services specifically for former service members. Other cities also have specific hotlines, but if in doubt, you can always call your local police precinct.
- Donate warm coats and supplies. Homeless shelters and relief organizations are always taking donations. Items such as coats, blankets, toothpaste, shampoo, and body wash are good to donate. The Salvation Army suggests that hygiene items be donated in miniature bottles because “the single woman and single male want to carry as little as possible.”