Donate

Common holiday traditions involve spending time with family and friends, exchanging gifts and feasting on lavish meals. Yet, this is not a realistic scene for a staggering portion of the American population.

Overall, 3.5 million Americans experience homelessness each year, according to the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty. These individuals don’t have homes to bundle up in during the cold weather; instead, they’re sleeping on the street, in their car, in a motel room or a community shelter. Many of them won’t get to enjoy a festive homemade meal.

While it’s true the holiday season is about spending time with family and friends, it’s also about giving to others.

Here are just a few ways you and your apartment company can help those experiencing homelessness during the holidays:

Donate items

Giving food, blankets, pillows, towels and clothes directly to those experiencing homeless or to the shelters that serve them is one effective way to alleviate the suffering of the homeless.

Also, consider making and carrying around care bags with small essentials – socks, snacks, bottled water, soap, hats, gloves – so that you can give them to a homeless person you see asking for help. These bags are great to make with your kids or even with residents and co-workers to help build upon the notion of helping others.

Show kindness

This is a simple, yet effective way to lift the spirits of those experiencing homelessness. Do you walk by those experiencing homelessness without looking at them? Stop, look them in the eye and say something. Even if it’s just “good morning,” or “I hope you have a nice day,” showing a little kindness, interest and respect can boost their morale. Better yet, a full-fledged conversation – even if it lasts just a minute or two – can help a homeless person feel respected and acknowledged.

Educate and employ

Homelessness comes with a stigma, and an important way you can help combat the stereotypes of those experiencing homelessness is by spreading awareness of the truth.

Many people believe that those experiencing homeless are doing so because of severe mental health issues or untreated substance abuse problems. They believe those experiencing homeless are unemployable and perhaps even beyond help.

In reality, the vast majority of America’s homeless population have become homeless due to a life-altering event or bad luck, such as job loss, medical or health emergency, divorce, domestic abuse or the loss of a primary income earner. They are able-bodied and ready to work, but they cannot secure employment without a home address.

Which brings us to another way to help the homeless during the holidays: have your apartment company make a commitment to hiring those employable people who are currently experiencing homeless. It may sound like a stretch, but numerous apartment operators across the country have done just that.

By partnering with the nonprofit Shelters to Shutters (S2S), more than 20 apartment management companies – including such industry giants as AvalonBay Communities and Equity Residential – have placed people experiencing homelessness in onsite, entry-level jobs while providing them with housing at the same apartment communities at which they work. S2S works with a number of homeless-focused non-profits to identify suitable job applicants, and has moved more than 100 people out of homelessness since it started in 2014.

Help the homeless just after the holidays with NMHC walk/run

If you are attending the NMHC Annual Meeting on Jan. 16-18 in Orlando, Fla., you can support S2S by participating in the NMHC Walk for the Homeless Benefiting Shelters to Shutters. The walk will be held on the morning of Thursday morning, Jan. 18 (exact time/location to be announced). All proceeds will benefit S2S.

This event is open to all registrants of the Annual Meeting, including those with networking passes. Spouses, friends and guests are also welcome to participate. Walk/run participants are asked to make a minimum $40 donation to S2S. Both company and individual donations are accepted and can be made directly to S2S online or via check. For more information about donating, visit this page on the NMHC website.

Simply put, there are many ways to help those experiencing homelessness this holiday season. So get out there and lend a helping hand. And better yet, extend that helping hand into the rest of the year as well.