Every Christmas individual, organizations, and businesses ask shelters what they can do to help those that are homeless. It’s part of the holiday season. Long before people fought the crowds looking for Boxing Day sales, it used to be the day where people used to box up their food scraps and give them to the poor. While food scraps aren’t needed these days, there are many in Saskatoon with real needs this Christmas. Here are some ideas on how you can help.
In putting together a list of things that people want, you need to realize that many people have lost everything except for the clothes on their back when they end up in the shelters and often have been in this state for a long time. On top of that, many shelters are busier over the holidays as people come inside over the holidays or find that they can’t bear to stay where they are over. Toss in things like season affective disorder (the depression that many have over the holidays), separation from families and frustration over their state of housing, it’s a busy and difficult time for shelter providers and any help that people can provide is appreciated.
For many being in a shelter allows them get a hot shower and cleaned up. Because of the numbers of people needing the services, shelters tend to buy in bulk and in individual packages for ease of distribution. Some simple luxuries like a bottle of body wash, shampoo, or conditioner have always been warmly appreciated as we have given them out. People tend to feel better about themselves when they feel and smell clean.
In shelters, the razors that are given out are of such low quality that I refuse to accept thanks when I give them out. Single blade, double blade, it doesn’t matter as they are all horrible. Most men and women have to get two of them just to shave. There are good disposable razors on the market but what I suggest are the store brands sold by the department stores and pharmacies. They are higher quality and the replacement blades a lot cheaper. If you are inclined, toss in some shaving cream. It builds self-esteem and is another thing that help them as they take the steps towards finding employment, an apartment or just reintegrating back into society.
When the owner of the Dallas Mavericks, Mark Cuban bought the team, he went out and bought the best towels that money could buy as he felt that a nice towel was a wonderful luxury. Visiting NBA players agreed as they took the towels from the Mavericks locker room and kept them despite their salaries. For most of the men and women that I work with in the shelters, none of them have a towel which means that on top of it being a constant need, it gives them something that they will need both in the shelter and when they move out on their own.
Many of the men that are in shelters are trying to work to get back out on their own. Which in the winter means a lot of work outside. While many don’t have a lot of job skills, they head down to an temporary labour place which means a lot of jobs which are out of the cold. Work brings in money but also allows a lot of them to prove themselves. Things like winter gloves, toques, warm socks, insoles, hard warmers, or a fleece to layer are critical in working that first winter job and keeps them going until they get that first paycheck. I am always surprised to look back and see for many men, their pathway to housing started with a donation of winter work gear at Christmas.
Along side of the winter work gear, I include an insulated travel mug and a thermos. It’s hard to spend a day working in Saskatchewan winters and when men have been given these in the past, they talk about what a difference it makes on the job site.
You also have the essentials which are often underwear and socks. While Saskatoon is generous with it’s donations to shelters with clothes, few donate underwear and socks because we tend to wear them out and toss them out. For 90% of the people that come into the facility I work at, they need socks or underwear, especially in winter.
Being homeless is hard anytime of the year but even harder over the holidays. In all of your giving this year, consider those that have nothing. It could be the start of something big. Just remember that before you go out and buy, call the shelter you want to give to, they will give you more refined list of ways you can help.