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Homelessness in London
Photograph: Diana Vucane/

8 easy ways to help the homeless this Christmas

From donating to food banks to supporting businesses that hire the homeless, these are some of the best ways to help out rough sleepers this festive season

Ed Cunningham
Written by
Ed Cunningham

Christmas is an incredibly difficult time for homeless people. It isn’t just that the weather’s cold (in the northern hemisphere, at least), which can bring a whole host of potential health issues. It’s lonely, too. The festive season is a time for family and community – things those living on the streets often don’t have. Christmas can instead become a period of severe physical and mental difficulty.

While it’s always a good idea to help the homeless, at Christmas it’s definitely worth considering going that extra mile. So what are the best ways to help people who need it in your city? Obviously, there are organisations and helplines that are unique to different places, but there are always a few common ways to pitch in.

And no, we’re not talking politics. While voting for certain local councillors or political parties who are sympathetic to solving the homelessness crisis is, in the long run, likely to be much more helpful and effective, this is what you can do right now. Pronto. This very minute.

Below are eight ways you can help the homeless this Christmas, from donating to food banks to supporting businesses that help get people off the street. And if where you live isn’t included, don’t worry. Like-minded initiatives are everywhere: these kinds of projects are available in most cities. Here are just a few examples of the global resources available.

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How to help the homeless this Christmas

1. Support a housing or shelter charity

Ranging from support networks and education to the provision of food and clothing, there are loads of different ways charities help the homeless. But one of the most direct things is helping to provide a safe, warm place to stay. 

Some charities let you sponsor rooms directly (like London’s Centrepoint), while others run shelters and housing units. Some even focus on particularly vulnerable communities like women and children (like WIN in NYC and Sanctuary Housing in Sydney).

2. Volunteer at a charity

If you’re looking to take a more active role in helping the homeless – or if you simply don’t have the spare cash – why not donate time instead of money? There are plenty of well-organised projects that’ll help you find a suitable role, whether it’s working in a soup kitchen or shelter, or assisting with medical care or job training.

From international organisations like DePaul to local efforts such as L.A.’s The Midnight Mission or the Simon Community in Edinburgh and Glasgow, homeless charities are often more than happy to take on new volunteers.


3. Help someone find free meals or a soup kitchen

When you don’t know where your next meal might come from, finding hot food (or, in some cases, any food at all) is vital. Plenty of cities around the world have networks of establishments that will provide free meals to those in need – but it can be difficult for homeless people to find them. If you’re more in-the-know about the places that will give out food to rough sleepers in your area, then you’re going to be better prepared to help them.

Resources like Get Food NYC and Find Food Chicago (which show maps of food pantries, soup kitchens and other providers of free food), Melbourne’s Local Food Connect and this blog in London are all great for clearly and easily showing the best places to find free meals or food.  

4. Support local businesses that train rough sleepers

Providing a route out of homelessness requires more than offering just food and shelter: it involves creating long-term plans to keep people off the streets. And a great way of doing this is training homeless people in useful skills. From brownie-makers to baristas, small businesses in cities around the world are giving rough sleepers a fresh start and doing their best to keep them off the streets.

In other words, there’s never been a better reason to visit some homeless-helping establishments. Go tuck into some sweet delicacies at Rise Brownies and House of Cinn in London, settle down with a hot brew at LA’s Skid Row Coffee, or wander down to one of the branches of Sydney’s STREAT café.


5. … and back others that directly help the homeless

This one can often be a little difficult, simply because lots of businesses can be quite modest about their activities in the local community, and the nature of those activities ranges widely. But putting it simply: if you find out that a business goes the extra mile for the homeless community, support it like hell.

The likes of the Darcy St. Project in Sydney (which gives out free coffees), Tiesta Tea in Chicago (which holds its annual Spread the Warmth event to provide warmth and everyday essentials to those in need) and the community events around Acton Town Dental Practice in London are all great examples of events and businesses that deserve more recognition for helping their local communities.

6. Donate to a food bank

If you’re the kind of person that likes to physically see how their donation is being used, there are few more hands-on ways to help the homeless than by donating food to food banks and soup kitchens.

Most food banks rely on donations to keep going, and while lots of those come from local businesses (like City Harvest in NYC), individuals can give too. Everywhere from the Manchester Central Foodbank to the Greater Chicago Food Depository are looking for contributions. If you want to be extra helpful, many food banks also list urgently needed items – so you can check for the most in-demand goods before you give.


7. Read up on the responsibilities of local authorities

Knowing how local authorities are supposed to be treating and looking after homeless people is crucial to keeping them safe and helping them get off the streets. The responsibilities of local governments vary a lot, even within cities, but it’s always good to ask whether someone on the street has been checked on by any authorities.

If a homeless person hasn’t been in contact with officials – and wants to be – you can do it yourself. There are usually hotlines and online portals available, such as Streetlink in England and Wales and the Homeless Outreach Portal in L.A. While it’s important to try and do your bit to help homeless people, it’s always good to make sure that the authorities are doing their best, too.  

8. Take time to talk

To put it bluntly, talking to a rough sleeper is, in itself, unlikely to help them find a home. But social interaction is still important. Taking the time out of your day to be compassionate and talk to a homeless person in a respectful way offers some kind of relief from the hours of isolation, loneliness and sleep deprivation.

Of course, it’s even better if you offer them some food, or try and direct them to a shelter or professional help. But on a base level, human interaction is fundamental to helping people feel a bit better – which is the very least anyone deserves at Christmas.

For more information on volunteering and supporting charities, see our city-specific guides in London, Los Angeles, New York, Sydney and Melbourne.

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