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LONG BEACH HOMELESS COLUMN: How to help people experiencing homelessness after holidays, season of giving end

Published: 12/26/2022

In Kelly Colopy's sixth column on the homelessness crisis, Long Beach Health Department & Human Services Director shares how people can continue to help and donate to those experiencing homelessness after the holidays. Take a read below.

This column first appeared in the Press-Telegram.

Colopy: How to help people experiencing homelessness after holidays, season of giving end

There is something special about the holiday season.

For me, it’s a time of joy, reflection, family and snowy mountain hikes – when I can find snow.

It’s also a time for giving — there is an outpouring of kindness, service and donations. Clothing drives, toy drives and holiday meals abound this time of year. It’s a wonderful thing. My family and I have sponsored gifts for families and found other ways to volunteer or give during the holiday season.

It’s heartening to see the ways the holidays can bring out the best in people.

But the thing about holiday giving is that, come January, donations and volunteerism drop off. I think this happens for a couple of reasons: The holiday season makes giving and volunteering so easy; and after the new year, people get back to the grind and the thought of volunteering drops off their radar.

But the generous spirit that envelops so many during the holidays doesn’t have to diminish when the ball drops.

Here are some ways you can help individuals and families experiencing homelessness throughout the year.

If you only have one day

If you are willing and able to give one day per year outside of the holiday season to help people experiencing homelessness, volunteer for the homeless point-in-time count.

Everything we do, and every dollar of state and federal homelessness funding we receive, depends upon an accurate census of people experiencing homelessness. And here in Long Beach, we do more than a visual count—we give every person the opportunity to tell their story. It’s more laborious than what’s required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development but understanding patterns of homelessness is key to figuring out how best to help people.

Volunteering for the homeless count is easy: you’ll have to complete a short training in person or online — and then it’s just a matter of showing up.

If the idea of interacting with people experiencing homelessness is intimidating, know that everyone goes out with a group and our homeless services staff does a great job pairing new volunteers with experienced folks. If the idea of waking up well before dawn on a weekday is intimidating, know that we have hot coffee and breakfast for volunteers.

Most importantly, people who volunteer for the homeless count gain a more nuanced understanding of the homelessness crisis in Long Beach. Everyone I’ve talked to who has volunteered has told me that the experience changes them for the better.

We are still accepting volunteers for the Jan. 26 count. Sign up at longbeach.gov/homelesscount. You must be at least 18 years old to volunteer.

If you can volunteer occasionally

A great way to volunteer on your own schedule is to collect needed items for people experiencing homelessness.

The Multi-Service Center is always in need of hygiene kit items, such as resealable gallon bags, toothbrushes and toothpaste, hand sanitizer, lip balm, deodorant, feminine products, dry shampoo and sunscreen. The MSC also accepts small food containers, paper lunch bags, napkins, gloves and utensils. You can call the MSC at 562-570-4500 to see what is needed most.

Recapture some of the holiday magic by making the collection a community experience. Host a quarterly party or dinner and ask your guests to bring items on your list, or consider collecting donation items through your office, neighborhood or faith group.

Assembling hygiene kits is also a great family activity – even young kids can understand that everyone needs toothbrushes and sunscreen. At a time when many are despairing over the state of homelessness in Long Beach, it can feel good to know that items you donate will directly and immediately help those in need.

If you can volunteer regularly

I would run out of column space if I attempted to list all the wonderful organizations in Long Beach that help people experiencing homelessness.

Every day of the week, organizations in town are serving hot meals to those in need. Christian Outreach in Action, Catholic Charities, Long Beach Rescue Mission and Beacon Light Mission are among those that serve meals several times a day, several days per week.

These organizations also do much more than serve meals. Many are largely powered by volunteers, and there are opportunities to lead career workshops, provide legal aid and even help out with office work.

To get started, you can reach out to the organization of your choice; many offer opportunities for families with children. Adults can also contact the MSC – we offer volunteer opportunities, too.

If you are looking for other ways to help

If you want to help but volunteering does not work for you, monetary donations are accepted – and appreciated – year-round.

You can support organizations that help people experiencing homelessness throughout the year. The Mayor’s Fund to End Homelessness, administered by the Long Beach Community Foundation, accepts both one-time and recurring donations. A generous gift of $500 provides furnishings and start-up goods for one household, but no donation is too small – $15 can provide three hygiene kits.

Besides the Mayor’s Fund to End Homelessness, there are dozens of organizations in our city that would benefit from your donations.

So, as we wind down the holiday season, let’s hold onto the hope and light that the holiday season brings, and resolve to continue to extend grace — and find ways, big and small, to help others in the new year.

Kelly Colopy is the director of Long Beach’s Department of Health and Human Services.

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