How to Help Homeless Youth This Winter

by January 19, 2017
filed under Activism
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With the winter upon us, the sun is setting sooner, the nights are freezing and, depending where you live, you may be looking forward to some snow. But last winter, I had an eye opening experience when I participated in an internship in New York City, a city famous for its biting-cold winters and high rate of homelessness. I couldn’t help but notice during my commute into the city how many people were left outside in the cold.

Unfortunately, New York City’s high rate of homelessness seems to be a problem without a concrete solution – and the same is true in so many cities around the world.

The following facts and figures have been pulled from the National Coalition for the Homeless’s ‘Youth Homelessness’ webpage and apply to homelessness in the United States. NCH defines homeless youth as those who do not receive care from parents, the foster care system or another institution.

These are alarming statistics. Sit with them for a moment, and consider how many individual lives are encompassed in this impersonal list of numbers. How can those of us with the means to help do so?

1. Shelter
According to the NCH, over 59,500 people sleep in NYC homeless shelters each night – but this number is not at all reflective of the total number of homeless individuals in the city, because so many people avoid shelters.

“The shelters, they say, are worse than a jail cell – not only decrepit, but dangerous: You sleep with one eye open to protect yourself against someone swiping your things or an overnight warrant raid by the NYPD,” writes VICE’s John Surico in his article, ‘The Battle Over How to Save New York’s Homeless from the Winter Cold’. “I’ve met with lines of homeless men who sleep directly across the street from shelters.”
These problems can be disheartening to learn about because they are large and systemic. So how can you help? Well, in the long term, we need to invest more in shelters to make them a safe resource for people. We also need more shelters and housing options overall. I would recommend doing some research into the shelters in your area and donating or volunteering with one whose cause you believe in.

For example, I’ve volunteered my time with a non-profit called GMHC in New York City. Though GMHC is not actually a shelter, I strongly believe in their commitment to providing services to folks with HIV and AIDS, including helping people to find long term housing solutions. This is important to me because GMHC makes lasting change, rather than providing a temporary fix. I encourage you to do some digging and find a cause near you – I’m sure they’d love your help!

I’d also recommend keeping these issues in mind when voting for your local legislators, or write to your local representative who is currently in office. Use your voice to make sure that politicians know that you care and want to see systemic change for the better.

2. Clothing
For more information about another great non-profit trying to make lasting change for homeless youth specifically, look into the Covenant House, which has locations in the US, Canada and Latin America. The Covenant House requests clothing donations so that they can provide clothes to homeless youths, who often walk into a shelter with only the outfit they are wearing. Covenant House also keeps outfits for youths to wear on job interviews – a great demonstration of their commitment to turning lives around.

Additionally, Covenant House has resources for youths who are also parents, including prenatal vitamins, onesies, diapers, and more – and they accept donations of bedding to make their facilities feel as homey as possible.

3. Toiletries
You might have considered the necessity of toilet paper, toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant, and other toiletries – but so many homeless people, including many homeless youth, require pads, tampons or other feminine hygiene products.

Last winter, YouTuber Ingrid Nilsen put out a series of videos called #DIYDecember. One of these videos consisted of Ingrid creating period kits for the homeless.

“Homeless women in the United States don’t have access to things that a lot of us may take for granted, like pads, tampons, and just a bathroom to use,” she said.

If you’d like to create period kits to donate to homeless folks with periods, you can visit

4. Education & Mental Health
It’s crucial that homeless youth have access to food, shelter, and clothing – but let’s not forget just how important a growing person’s mind is. Covenant House accepts donations of educational supplies, including everything from pencils to computers.

If you’re interested in more information about education for homeless youth, the non-profit StandUp For Kids provides GED tutoring, job hunting, resume building classes, and lessons on study skills. They also provide behavior management courses and ensure that homeless youth are able to let loose and meet peers at social events they organize. (StandUp For Kids is located throughout the US and accepts donations and volunteers.)

If you know a homeless youth in North America, refer them to one of the Covenant House phone numbers based on their location (available on their website) or 1-800-RUNAWAY, a 24/7 helpline.

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Published in the Winter 2017 issue. Read the rest of the issue for FREE here.

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