Monday, October 4, 2010


We’re counting down 10 weeks to World Homeless Action Day on October 10th.

This week’s big idea: Talk To A Homeless Man Or Woman

  1. What's Your Name?
    Treat the person as you would anyone else.  Introduce yourself and learn his/her name. 

  2. Are You Homeless?
    Don't automatically assume that a panhandler or person sitting on the sidewalk is homeless.  They may have a place to stay, but choose to panhandle due to lack of finances.  Even if they're not homeless, they could have a significant need.

  3. Where Are You From?
    A natural bridge into learning someone's story is to find out where they're from, where they've been, how they got here and how long they've lived in the area.  If they are new to the area, you might be able to give them helpful information about resources they could use.

  4. What Do You Need Most Right Now?
    The best way to help is to find the point of greatest need.  Is it food?  Shelter?  Sickness?  Transportation?  Clothing?  Addiction treatment?

  5. Can I Buy You Something To Eat Or Drink?
    Offer to buy a meal or a cup of coffee and eat together.  A meal can ease the flow of conversation. 

  6. How Did You Become Homeless?
    The answers will vary widely.  Be prepared to hear some painful stories.

  7. How Do You Survive?
    You might be surprised to find out where people sleep, how they make money and where they get food.

  8. What Would You Want Other People To Know About You?
    A question like this gives the opportunity to go deeper.

  9. What Do You Hope For Your Future?
    Homeless men and women are often short on hope.  Help them envision a brighter future for themselves.

  10. If You Could Have Three Wishes, What Would They Be?
    This is a classic question used by Mark Horvath in his interviews.  Watch a few of his videos to see how easy it is to talk to a homeless man or woman. 

There's plenty of other good questions and conversation starters out there.  What ones would you add?

    Monday, September 27, 2010


    We’re counting down 10 weeks to World Homeless Action Day on October 10th.

    This week’s big idea: Donate To A Local Organization

    1. Your Car
      Many non-profits have car donation programs which support their work.  Portland Rescue Mission's program includes job training in automotive repair for men in the recovery program.  Donate your old car, receive tax deduction benefits and enjoy knowing that you're helping people in need. 

    2. Your Time
      Volunteer to help serve meals, answer phones, prepare mailings, teach job skills, tutor in math or writing, clean facilities or sort donated food / clothing.

    3. Fresh Meat And Produce
      Portland Rescue Mission serves as many as 250,000 meals a year.  Homeless organizations like us that serve food are constantly in need of fresh meat, produce and dairy products to feed hungry men, women and children. 

    4. Non-Perishable Food
      Non-perishable food items are great for their ability to be stored until needed.  Organizations that serve a lot of food especially benefit from bulk quantities and larger (#10) size cans of fruits and vegetables.

    5. Clothes
      Chances are, your closet could use a good cleaning.  Donate clothes that are still in good condition to a local shelter.  New socks and undergarments usually greatly needed too.

    6. Furniture
      Ask if your local homeless organization can use donated beds and furniture.  They might be able to give them to men and women who are moving off the street and into permanent housing.

    7. Financial Support
      Money is an obvious need for non-profit organizations.  Make it a tradition to give a special gift during the holidays.  Donate part of your job bonus or windfall.  Leave a legacy gift such as an annuity.  Become a monthly donor to provide support all-year long.

    8. Your Birthday or Special Occasion
      In lieu of gifts, ask friends and family to give to the charity of your choice.  Network for Good allows you to easily set up an online donation page / charity badge.

    9. Your Partnership
      If you work for a business or organization, there's a multitude of ways you can support a local non-profit.  Set aside space for a non-profit to display their materials.  Donate room in your print publications as free ad space.  Offer a matching challenge to your employees who will donate money to a non-profit.  Allow employees a few hours to volunteer while on the job.  Be a sponsor of a non-profit's fund raising event.

    10. Your Influence
      If you believe in the work of a local non-profit, spread the word to your friends.  Share a link on Facebook, Twitter or a blog.  Talk about why you volunteer or donate.  Rally friends and family to volunteer or participate in an event. 

    What items would you add to this list?

      Monday, September 20, 2010


      We’re counting down 10 weeks to World Homeless Action Day on October 10th.

      This week’s big idea: Plan Ahead

      1. Be Prepared
        There's many ways to help a homeless man or woman.  Often, we fail to act simply because we're caught off guard.  In most cases, you'll have better success if you've planned ahead and are ready to meet the need. 

      2. Engage The Person
        Homeless people are people.  Smile and say hello.  Go out of your way to approach them.  Acknowledging them shows respect and gives dignity.

      3. Ask Questions
        Start a conversation by asking questions.  Learn where they are from.  Ask their name.  Inquire about what they need most.  (Look for our 10 QUESTIONS YOU CAN ASK A HOMELESS PERSON coming on the final week of this countdown.)

      4. Think Before Giving Money
        Opinions vary on whether it is best to give money to a panhandler.  Some have experimented with giving pre-paid credit cards.  In most cases, meeting the person's actual immediate need for food or clothing might be better than giving cash.

      5. Offer A Care Kit
        Keep care packages in your vehicle that include essentials.  See our list of 10 ITEMS A HOMELESS PERSON COULD USE.

      6. Offer Public Transit Tickets
        In Portland, Oregon, the TriMet public transit system can be a convenient way for homeless men and women to get to appointments and resources.  Consider buying tickets in advance to keep with you.  Hand the person an address list of the organizations where they can get help.

      7. Offer Food Gift Cards / Certificates
        Food is the most common need panhandlers request money for.  Be ready to offer gift certificates to restaurants in the area.  Offer to sit and eat a meal with the person as a way to get to know them.

      8. Offer A Meal Voucher
        Portland Rescue Mission offers free breakfast and dinner to all comers 7 days a week.  Download our meal vouchers (PDF) as a handy way for a homeless man or woman to remember our meal locations and times.  If you're not from Portland, research the free meal options available in your city.

      9. Point Them To Resources
        Portland has a wide variety of services available to homeless men and women that they may not know about. You can request copies of the "Rose City Resource Guide" to hand out.  If you're in another city, do some research if a similar guide is available.

      10. Offer To Pray
        If you're inclined, offer to pray for the person.  Ask what they would like you to pray for.  Your prayers will be most appreciated if you've taken the time to listen to the person and have offered tangible help. 

      What items would you add to this list?

        Monday, September 13, 2010

        COUNTDOWN - WEEK 4

        We’re counting down 10 weeks to World Homeless Action Day on October 10th.

        This week’s big idea: Break The Stereotype

        It's easy to blame homeless men and women for getting themselves into their predicament.  It's convenient to think of them in a stereotype of lazy, dirty and sub-human.  A closer look reveals the many facets, causes and complexities behind homelessness.

        1. Addiction
          Probably the most common stereotype of chronically homeless people is that they are drug and alcohol addicts -- with good reason.  68% of U.S. cities report that addiction is a their single largest cause of homelessness.*  "Housing First" initiatives are well intentioned, but can be short-sighted.  A formerly homeless addict is likely to return to homelessness unless they deal with the addiction.  Treatment programs are needed that treat the root causes of addiction and help men and women find a way back home.  (*Source: National Coalition for the Homeless - Substance Abuse.)

        2. Domestic Violence
          Nationally, 50% of homeless women and children are fleeing domestic violence.*  When a woman is abused, she faces a crisis of safety.  If she stays in the home, she'll be beaten again.  If she leaves, she'll have little means of support.  Either choice is a tremendous risk.  Choosing homelessness over abuse is both a brave and frightening decision. (*Source: National Coalition for the Homeless - Domestic Violience.)

        3. Mental Illness
          6% of the American population suffers from mental illness.  In the homeless population, that number jumps to 20-25%.*  Serious mental illnesses disrupt people’s ability to carry out essential aspects of daily life, such as self care and household management.  Without assistance, these men and women have little chance of gaining stability.  (*Source: National Coalition for the Homeless - Mental Illness.)

        4. Job Loss and Underemployment
          The current downtown in the economy has many Americans barely getting by financially.  Many are underemployed at wages that can't sustain them.  Layoffs and job cuts leave individuals and families in desperate circumstances.  Unemployment benefits and savings run out, leaving people homeless who never thought it could happen to them.  (See: National Coalition for the Homeless - Employment.)

        5. Foreclosure
          Even people who have jobs are finding themselves upside down with their mortgages.  From 2008 to 2009, foreclosures jumped by 32%.  A 2009 survey estimates that as many as 10% of people seeking help from homeless organizations do so due to foreclosure.*  (*Source: National Coalition for the Homeless - Foreclosure.)

        6. Post-Traumatic Stress
          One any given night, as many as 200,000 military veterans sleep on the street.*  The percentage of veterans with post-traumatic stress is growing among those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.  Adapting to "normal life" back in the U.S. is proving to be extremely difficult for the men and women who have served us.  Unable to cope, some choose to leave homes, loved ones and jobs behind for homelessness and/or addiction.  (*Source: National Coalition for the Homeless - Veterans.)

        7. Throw Away Teens
          Homeless teens often become so due to family conflicts.  They're kicked out or choose to run away over issues of sexual orientation, teen pregnancy, physical abuse or drug addiction.  20% of homeless teens identify as LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) compared to 10% in the general population.  Over 58% of these teens have been sexually abused.  62% are likely to commit suicide.*  (*Source: National Coalition for the Homeless - LGBT.)

        8. Relational Brokenness
          A homeless person is most often a deeply hurting person.  By the time they come to a homelessness organization for help, they've burned through every supportive relationship possible.  Friends and family are no longer able or willing to help, leaving the homeless man or woman very much alone.  What relationships they have are usually predatory.  In a sense, their situation is less about homelessness and more about unwantedness.  A significant barrier to recovery often lies in the ability to restore trust and maintain healthy relationships.

        9. Grief
          It's not uncommon to discover that the men and women in the Portland Rescue Mission recovery program are burdened by grief.  Unable to deal with the death of a loved one or other significant trauma, they numb their pain in addiction.  Addiction and apathy lead to the loss of job and home.  They simply stop caring if they live or die.  Grief becomes a roadblock to living.

        10. Despair
          "Once you get down this low, it's hard to get back up," we often hear homeless men and women say.  The longer they are homeless, the more difficult it becomes to combat the lies they hear in their heads.  They believe there's no way out.  They don't deserve another chance.  They'll never break free from addiction.  They'll always be a failure.  More than anything, these men and women need hope.

        What would you add to this list?

          Monday, September 6, 2010

          COUNTDOWN - WEEK 5

          We’re counting down 10 weeks to World Homeless Action Day on October 10th.

          This week’s big idea: Start A Collection Drive

          Holding a collection drive or fundraising event might seem overwhelming.  Here's a few tips that can help make it easier, fun and successful.


          1. Keep It Simple
            Focus on just one type of item to collect.  Instead of a full-fledged clothing drive, collect just socks.  Instead of a food drive, collect just canned vegetables.  This will help keep your messaging simple.  People who want to participate won't have to hesitate because of a tough decision about -- or having to remember -- what to purchase.  Of course, check with your charity ahead of time about what items they need.

          2. Make It Easy
            People are more likely to help if the action is relatively quick, convenient and easy to do.  They may not have time to purchase items from a store, so allow them to simply donate money -- you'll do the shopping for them.  Provide pre-addressed, pre-stamped giving envelopes that make it easy for them to drop a check in the mail.  Send an email that allows them to donate online right away.  (Network for Good has charity badges you can use to collect donations.)

          3. Don't Go Solo
            Chances are, you're interested in doing a collection drive because you love managing projects or you love motivating people.  Whichever type you are, find someone with the other strength to help you.  Your project will have greater success if you have a good up-front cheerleader persona and someone who loves checklists making sure the details happen.  You'll likely have more fun and success if you don't try to do it alone.

          4. Use The Power Of Friend Multiplication
            People are more likely to give to a fundraiser not because there is a need, but because a friend asked them to give.  Focus your advertising on items that challenge / empower people to invite their friends.  Instead of asking people to donate a can of food, ask them to ask 10 friends to donate a can of food.  That puts the power of multiplication to work.  Motivate participation by rewarding the top influencers who got the most friends to participate.  

          5. Ask For Sponsorships
            Ask local businesses to help out.  They can be a collection site.  They can offer discounts on the food or clothing items you're asking people to collect.  They can provide coffee or food for your volunteers.  They can donate prize items for your top influencers.  Offer the business something in return, like public mention or logo placement on your advertising materials.

          6. Craft Your Sales Pitch
            Before you ask for participation, have your pitch well-rehearsed.  This can be a helpful formula:

            A - Grab their ATTENTION. (There's a crisis in healthcare!)
            I - Add INTEREST. (50% of kids will get cancer.)
            D - Stimulate DESIRE. (But we've found a cure.)
            A - Call to ACTION. (If we have your help, we'll get the cure much faster.)

          7. Talk About Life Change
            You're not asking people to donate an item, you're asking them to change a life.  Phrase your language that way.  "Would you help us give hope to a homeless man or woman?  Your donation of $10.00 will buy 10 pair of socks.  That's 10 opportunities for us to meet and talk with a person who is hurting and looking for a way back home."

          8. Take It Online
            People expect to be able to interact with you online.  These options are easier than ever and completely free.  Set up a free website or blog using Blogger and WordPress.  Create donation badge through Network for Good.  Upload a video to YouTube.  Share photos on Flickr.  Make all your content easy for people to share on their Facebook and Twitter accounts.  Overwhelmed by the techy stuff?  Recruit a teenager to set things up for you.

          9. Make It Hands-On
            Your goal in the collection drive should be bigger than getting people to donate.  Get them to care about the cause.  One church collected thousands of pounds of food, then asked all the participants to help load it into eight semi-trucks.  The task could have been done faster with forklifts.  But nothing could beat the emotional impact of hundreds of people forming a line and passing food boxes across the parking lot.  As they touched each box, they knew it would go to feed a family in need.  There's something powerful and tangible about hands-on participation.

          10. Celebrate
            From the start of your planning, include ideas of how you'll wrap things up.  Throw a party for volunteers and donors.  Collect e-mail and postal addresses along the way so you can properly thank all your champions.  When you drop off your donated items to the charity, take lots of photos and video to upload to the web.  People love to see the connection between their donation and the people it will benefit.  The better you thank and inspire your participants this time, the more likely they will be to help out in the future.

          Have you run a collection drive in the past?  What tips can you offer?

            Tuesday, August 31, 2010

            COUNTDOWN - WEEK 6

            We’re counting down 10 weeks to World Homeless Action Day on October 10th.

            This week’s big idea: Make A Care Kit

            If you've ever been approached by a homeless man or woman, you may have felt uncomfortable about how to respond when asked for money.  We recommend anticipating these opportunities.  Make some care kits in advance to keep in your vehicle.  These can be a good alternative for situations when giving money isn't the best option.

            The following items can be placed in quart- or gallon-size Zip-Lock bags.

            1. Socks
              Homeless men and women spend a lot of time on their feet. A fresh pair of clean, dry socks can feel like heaven on tired, soggy feet.  Throw in some band-aids to help ease the pain of blisters.

            2. Reusable Water Bottle
              Water brings relief, especially in hot weather. But instead of bottled water, consider a reusable bottle as an eco-friendly option.

            3. Lotion
              Lotion and lip balm are often welcome items. Anti-bacterial lotions can help when soap and water aren't available for washing hands.

            4. Soap / Shampoo
              Save the small unopened soap bars and shampoo bottles from your hotel visits. Their compact travel size are convenient and light weight. Larger soap bars are great too. But if you're packing soap in a care kit, be aware that its scent can be absorbed by packaged crackers, making for a less-than-tasty snack.

            5. Toothpaste / Toothbrush

            6. Towel / Washcloth
              Showers aren't easy to come by for homeless men and women.  A towel and washcloth are helpful for washing as best they can in a restroom.

            7. Comb / Brush / Razor
              Contrary to stereotypes, most homeless men and women prefer to stay clean and well-groomed.

            8. Snacks
              Throw in some packets of nuts, crackers, dried fruit, trail mix, granola bars, breakfast bars, instant noodles or other light-weight, quick snacks.

            9. Resource Guide
              Portland has a wide variety of services available to homeless men and women that they may not know about. You can request copies of the "Rose City Resource Guide" to hand out with your care kits.  If you're in another city, do some research if a similar guide is available.

            10. Encouragement
              All the items above are helpful, but the most meaningful part of a care kit is the opportunity for a conversation and friendship. Your smile and offer of help could be the encouragement a homeless man or women needs to make it through another day.

            What items would you add to this list?

              Monday, August 23, 2010

              COUNTDOWN - WEEK 7

              We’re counting down 10 weeks to World Homeless Action Day on October 10th.

              This week’s big idea: Visit A Homeless Organization

              Have you ever toured a homeless shelter? Take the time to do so this week. Ask good questions about other places homeless people sleep in your city.

              (Credit to

              Living without a home of your own is a devastating experience. But sleeping without a home is downright difficult. Some of these places receive media attention. Others may surprise you. But all of these overnight accommodations are completely unacceptable for regular human habitation.
              1. Storage Units
                Many have called storage units the modern-day cardboard box. Sure, they're not ideal, but they’re dry, secure and beat the dangers of the street. And they offer a way for people to keep some of their belongings rather than abandon them or have them stolen.

              2. Cars
                Living out of a vehicle may seem like a bearable solution to losing one's home. But when your home is on four wheels, it's impossible to sit still. Each day, you must be on the go to evade authorities and the expensive citations for illegal parking or sleeping in a vehicle (Yes, there are ordinances against this.). You sleep with one eye open; you can never be perfectly at ease. And the nomadic lifestyle makes it difficult for homeless organizations to stay in touch to provide help.

              3. Motels
                Cheap motels became the newest thing in subsidized housing and the de facto shelter for families affected by the recession in 2009. For families, it's an affordable alternative to shelter and safer than the streets. But with cramped rooms, unsafe conditions, and little space for cooking, it is far from a good alternative to safe, decent housing. And when money runs out, families are back on the street.

              4. Tent Cities
                Since the economy has been hurting, homeless encampments have sprung up in communities across the U.S. Some - like Sacramento, Providence, or Nickelsville - garner lots of media attention; others go quietly unnoticed. As diverse the residents and characteristics of these communities may be, they all have on thing in common: they are cloaked in controversy. Portland’s tent city is Dignity Village (

              5. Parks
                After walking all day or night, it’s tempting for a homeless man or woman to stretch out on the lawn or a bench for some rest. Parks are open to the public and a decent place to get a nap during the day. But sleeping in the park at night is usually interrupted by police asking offenders to move along.

              6. Streets
                While it may seem counter-intuitive that a homeless person would choose to stay on the streets rather than in a homeless shelter, there are understandable reasons for doing so. Shelters tend to attract people who are chronically homeless and addicted. This can be frightening to someone newly homeless or to those who struggle with mental illness or social phobias.

              7. Foreclosed Houses
                Across the country, hundreds of thousands of foreclosed homes are boarded up, idle and empty. At the same time, homelessness has been on the rise and the need for decent affordable housing is as great as ever. It comes as no surprise that homeless men and women choose to become squatters in vacant homes.

              8. Abandoned Buildings
                Much like the situation with foreclosed homes, there’s no shortage of empty warehouses and other business buildings where homeless men and women take shelter.

              9. Couches
                When homelessness strikes, friends and relatives are often the first place of refuge. Homeless families and individuals sleep on couches, in garages/sheds and backyard tents. Although they are technically homeless, they are unseen and left uncounted in an official homeless census – until the hospitality wears out. Then, they end up on the street.

              10. We Don't Know
                For all of those homeless individuals whose unfortunate living situations are documented, recorded, and broadcast to the public, there are hundreds more who remain anonymous. The methodology for finding and counting homeless people is imperfect; we simply do not find everyone.