On a given night in January 2015, an estimated 565,000 people were homeless in the U.S.1 An estimated 2.5 million children in the U.S. are homeless each year.2 And, millions of Americans live on the verge of homelessness. Unemployment, stagnant salaries, increases in housing costs and healthcare costs leave many people teetering on the edge of homelessness at any given moment. Add in problems like mental illness, domestic abuse, substance abuse, injury or illness and we can understand how a person or family can become homeless.

As the government and organizations work on long term solutions to the problem such as increased affordable housing and assistance programs, we must address the crisis situation of fellow Americans living in the streets. We can help ease the suffering of these struggling people by getting involved and helping to support them in our own local communities. You'll find that there are new tools, like YouGiveGoods online drive system, that simplify the process and make it easier to help.

Consider these four ideas for helping the homeless in your own community:

  • 1) Show compassion. When we come across a homeless person in the street we may be inclined to look away. A homeless person is already suffering and by making them feel invisible we make the problem even worse. A simple "Good Morning" can help keep a homeless person's spirits up and inspire them to keep fighting.
  • 2) Advocate. If you are not living in a community with a homeless problem, chances are there is a town or city nearby that is. You can help by raising awareness in your community. Utilize social media to remind others of the reality of the problem and offer suggestions for them to get involved.
  • 3) Volunteer. Contact your closest homeless shelter or outreach program and find out how you can help. Typically they can use help with general office work, cleaning and sorting and distributing supplies. Remember to mention any professional skills that could benefit the organization such as accounting, logistics, marketing or website design. And, you can make a difference as a virtual volunteer by running your YouGiveGoods online drive.
  • 4) Run a drive. Help shelters and programs care for as many people as possible by raising needed supplies. Homeless programs are always in need of clean, new socks. Consider running a drive just for socks!

    Check out how S.O.C.K.S (So Others Can Keep Striding) raised socks for the homeless during Socktober 2015. Other needed items include linens, blankets and personal care items like tooth brushes, soap, shampoo and deodorant. And, don't forget the children. School supplies, toys and books can give a child struggling with homelessness something that provides them joy that they can call their own.

    YouGiveGoods offers a comprehensive selection of goods to help the homeless. A YouGiveGoods online drive is a simple, effective way to hold a homeless care drive. There are no collection bins or logistics to manage. Simply select your shelter or program that you'd like to support and share your online drive with via social media and email. See how Leadership Greater Hartford online drive raised over 800 items for Mercy Housing and Shelter in Hartford, CT.

Even a small effort can provide comfort and hope to a person suffering from homelessness. You can make a difference by educating yourself, advocating for change, and getting involved in programs that offer tangible help today.

1 The National Alliance to End Homelessness

2 National Center on Family Homelessness