I am sensitive toward the issue of homelessness. I've never been myself, but I've had close family members and friends who've not only spent a few nights on the street, but have lived there or in shelters for extended periods of time due to horrible and unforeseen problems that come up.
I get defensive when I hear or read things like, "Don't give them money, they'll just spend it on booze/drugs," or "Why don't they just get a job instead of begging for our money?" I get defensive because that person is someone's mother, father, brother or sister, son or daughter, and friend. And regardless of how they got to where they are, they are no less worthy of love than you are.
I know some people who go out of their way to go and buy food directly to give it to homeless people so that they KNOW they won't buy drugs with the money. But I wonder if you realize that homeless people still need blankets, gloves, medication, new shoes, or they could be saving up for a bus ticket to somewhere safer? I say give them the money, you've done your part, what they do with it is on them.
There is one corner in our town that is almost always populated with at least one person seeking a little extra help. We give when we can, and a week or so ago we noticed as we drove by (unfortunately with no cash that day) that the man asking for help didn't have any gloves. Temperatures dropped here recently and we were freezing in our car. We couldn't imagine how that man was feeling. I had the idea to run by a store and pick up some gloves for him, because what was five bucks to us? Not even a meal at McDonalds.
My husband has always been an amazing giver to people who need it more. During our ten years of marriage, I've never seen him turn someone down who needed help when he had the ability to help. Anytime he got a bonus at work, he'd purposely go out of his way to help people who were living in their broken down cars, just trying to pay for the gas or parts to get home to their family. He stops in the middle of the street to call over loose dogs to check their tags and return them to their owners. He will even run and buy a bag of cough drops for a cashier at Walmart who is forced to work while sick. So it was no surprise to me that he took my gloves idea and made it so much better.
We went and bought a small backpack and put together some food items, gift cards, gloves, socks, a hat and scarf together (plus some actual cash and a blanket contributed by Matt's mother) together, with the plan to take it into the city and give it to someone who looked like they needed that little bit of love this season. I left all the tags (minus the price) on every item so this person would know that we didn't just give them random garbage we found in our house. I even left a Christmas card inside. I wanted them to know they were thought about, prayed about, and specifically shopped for.
When we found a man in need, Matt parked the car and crossed the street to hand him the bag and explain everything that was inside. The man thanked Matt repeatedly, and when Matt explained that inside the bag were a pair of gloves and other things to help keep warm, the man tearfully replied, "Really?"
The combined efforts of our family cost us less than fifty dollars. We would spend that much money going out to dinner or to the movies. We'd spend that much money grabbing Starbucks everyday for a week. It was just one less essentially useless gift under our tree to make the biggest difference in someone's life.
I am NOT saying all of this to brag (especially since it was barely my idea), I am writing this to show how EASY it is to help someone else. Someone who needs it. Not just during Christmas but ALL year long.
Don't put it off. Don't tell yourself that you'll volunteer at a soup kitchen next Thanksgiving, do it the during the last week of January when everyone else has lost the giving spirit of Christmas. Don't just donate clothes to shelters or give money to your church HOPING that they'll redistribute it to people who need it. Make it personal. Learn their names, shake their hands, and let them know that they are thought of personally. Look these people in the eye and let them know that you see them as people! That they are not invisible.
JustGive.org is an awesome website that has plenty of ideas on how to help. Check it out and do yourself a favor and DO something for someone else.