By Jordan Polk, Democracy & Me Intern
Remember “Winter is coming”? As we head deeper into the month of December, the motto of House Stark from HBO’s Game of Thrones gives way to an even tougher reality, right here in southwest Ohio: Winter is here.
For a lot of us, the chilly season means holidays, a break from academics, and tasty peppermint mocha lattes. But not everyone in our community has the luxury of cozying up inside a warm house and watching the snow fall from a window. Unfortunately, thousands of our neighbors have no place at all to call home. These people are forced to brave the cold, day and night, suffering immensely during the changing of seasons. For them, the coming of winter represents a brutal life-threatening challenge, more “Battle of Winterfell” than A Charlie Brown Christmas.
Due to COVID-19, this winter is even more dangerous for many. The financial stress of the pandemic has resulted in more people than ever becoming food- and housing-insecure. Additionally, it has become more difficult for shelters and service organizations to assist people safely, because of the risk of viral transmission. Especially this year, we can’t leave the less fortunate out in the cold.
If your heart is full of the giving spirit this holiday season, there are countless ways that you can help the homeless population. Four to start with:
- Donate warm clothes, coats, socks, and blankets. Shelters and individuals experiencing homelessness consistently request these essential items, new or gently used.
- Support a holiday gift drive. Many churches, shelters, and organizations across the world are hosting drives and/or accepting gifts that will be given to less fortunate people, including warm clothes, food, hygiene products, and children’s toys. All it takes is a Google search to find existing gift drives in your area, or consider starting your own drive, enlisting friends, family, coworkers, classmates, and any other connects that you may have.
- Donate food, or consider volunteering for an organization like Rescuing Leftover Cuisine, which strives to limit food waste and reallocate surplus food to those that need it. In Cincinnati, La Soupe and the Freestore Food Bank are two other groups leading the way in this effort.
- If you’re in Cincinnati, pick up a copy of Streetvibes from a licensed vendor, or subscribe online. Why? Here’s the street newspaper’s editor, Gabriela Godinez Feregrino, talking recently on the Cincinnati & Hamilton County Public Library’s Writer-in-Residence podcast.
Clearly, there are so many ways to get involved and help fix this problem. Even things such as starting a blanket drive, making sandwiches and delivering them to a shelter, or simply lending some financial help through a certified organization is a great way to aid in the homeless population’s wintery plight.
If you reside in Ohio, like me, Dave Chappelle, or Lebron James, a great organization that you could donate to is the Coalition of Homelessness and Housing in Ohio. If you are not from Ohio, like all three of the really cool people that I listed, you can use https://www.homelessshelterdirectory.org to find homeless shelters in areas that are close to you. Here in Hamilton County, the Greater Cincinnati Area Coalition for the Homeless and Strategies to End Homelessness are two great places to educate yourself on the problems and start helping with solutions. Bethany House is another; here’s a link to a WVXU news story from this week about their plans to construct a new $16.5 million shelter facility for families with children.
Homelessness is a living condition that can realistically happen to anyone—all it takes is a wrong turn of events. I implore you to help out those who are currently experiencing such hardship, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Do more research and understand how you can turn homelessness around in your hometown. Finally, I hope you all stay warm and safe during this troubling time, and I hope you can help others do the same, too.