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Help a neighbor

College of Social Work Dean Tom Gregoire shares 10 ways we can assist members of our communities who are homeless.

Homelessness is a national crisis even worse than the data indicates, says Tom Gregoire, dean of the College of Social Work. A 2020 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development report showed increasing homelessness rates for four consecutive years — and the most recent count took place in January 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic. Gregoire rejects the prevalent myth that you shouldn’t give cash to homeless people. He gives frequently and without expectations. “I was visiting my nephew when a guy asked for a dollar and I gave him a dollar. My nephew says, ‘Don’t you think he’s just going to go drink it?’” Gregoire says, “I said, ‘You know what, I could go have a drink right now, and now he can, too. So I just made him like me.’” Gregoire shares 10 actions anyone can take to help people experiencing homelessness.

1. Learn more

Head to trusted sources such as the National Coalition for the Homeless or local groups such as Columbus Coalition for the Homeless for resources.

2. Reflect on what you believe

If you do nothing else, reflect on what you believe when it comes to homelessness and engage others to challenge their own assumptions. Why do you believe individuals are homeless? Because they don’t want to work, are mentally ill or can’t kick a drug habit? One of the most common reasons, Gregoire says, is bankruptcy. Medical bills are a contributing factor. For women and children, the reason often is domestic violence.

3. Donate to a food pantry

If you don’t feel comfortable giving cash, feed people instead. Donate to a food pantry or shelter, or buy someone a sandwich.

4. Donate clothing

Donate clothing to a shelter. Socks are always in high demand, and face masks have been useful during the pandemic.

5. Donate to an organization fighting homelessness

Donate to a local shelter, pantry or organization fighting homelessness. Learn which local groups support specific populations, such as women and children, LGBTQ youth — they account for up to 40% of homeless youth — or those with pets. Consider a donation to the public library system. Homeless individuals often rely on libraries for restrooms and public computer access.

6. Advocate

Advocate for low-income housing, public transportation and other services and issues that affect homeless populations. Learn about your neighborhood’s approach to camps built by homeless people. When encampments are cleared, are efforts made to protect the belongings of residents?

7. Vote

Vote for candidates whose platforms address homelessness. Where does your candidate stand on affordable housing, funding for transportation and support for nonprofits that serve people with low or no income?

8. Volunteer

Volunteer your time at a food pantry or shelter. You can serve food, wash dishes, distribute clothing or perform clerical work.

9. Support students

Support students by contributing to College of Social Work scholarships or mentoring a student. “When you support a student, you’re helping everyone they’re going to help for the next 30 years,” Gregoire says.

10. Look homeless people in the eye and say hello

Look homeless people in the eye and say hello. “I get my morning decaf at Speedway — every seventh is free. One morning, there was a guy who looked like he had all of his possessions. I say, ‘Mine was free, do you want my dollar?’” Gregoire says. “He gave me a smile and I thought, that’s the same smile his mother saw. We have to be more compassionate and see people.”

About the author

Portrait of author

Shelley Mann ’03

Shelley Mann ’03 (she/her/hers) earned her journalism degree from Ohio State, where she served as editor-in-chief of The Lantern. She worked for 10 years as a reporter and editor for newspapers and magazines before jumping to freelance writing and editing. She’s already incorporated some of these suggestions into her life.