Five Ways to Help Homeless People While Socially Distancing

Helping Hands

COVID-19 has taken our cities by storm. One week ago, my city witnessed gas prices plummet to century-low rates, the virus became a family affair for my country’s Prime Minister, the number of confirmed cases in my city exploded – and all of our routines imploded.

For my colleagues and I who work in the frontlines of a shelter, our worst fears were confirmed: COVID-19 had hit our community. The question was no longer if, but when coronavirus would hit the homeless people we serve.

Our shelter has taken difficult measures to ensure the safety of the people we serve. One such measure was pausing all community member contributions to the operations of the shelter, including volunteering and donations. Many shelters across the continent have taken similar measures.

This decision leaves many volunteers with heavy hearts, as their gift and time donations helped contribute to the welfare of their community. It feels paradoxical to turn away support during a time of escalated need, but it is a necessary measure to limit exposure to COVID-19.

If you’re an ally in the fight to end homelessness, and you feel helpless in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic: fear not. Below is a list of ways you can contribute to the welfare of homeless people in your community— all while maintaining social distance.

1) Advocate for Services to Respond to Your Community’s Needs

Homeless people across the country are reeling with the shutdown of community services during the coronavirus pandemic. Homeless people normally have little risk of starvation, as they have access to various (albeit sparse) food services in their community. They generally have access to shelter, or a means of garnering enough income to subsist on the streets by panhandling or busking.

In the new world of the COVID-19 pandemic, this is not the case. Many food service agencies have closed their doors or reduced their hours. Shelters that were previously operating at-capacity are now operating at double- or even triple-capacity to serve the exorbitant need. Many streets are empty.

Can you imagine crossing newsstands day-in and day-out, all blasting one message: stay home, stay safe, but not having anywhere to call home, and no means of staying safe?

The reality for half a million Americans is that they are not only at-risk of dying from COVID-19, but also of dying from a lack of support to meet their basic needs. Homeless people need food; homeless people need shelter. They need your advocacy.

All levels of government need to coordinate the pandemic response for homeless people, but I believe advocacy has the greatest impact at the community level.

Connect with the agencies in your municipality to find out how their services are responding to COVID-19, where there are gaps, and how you can support their movement. Contact your local government to amplify their message and to ask for more funding from the government. Ask the people in your network to do the same to garner widespread community support.

In my community, we were able to secure a hotel space with the capacity to shelter 300 homeless men, as well medical staff to operate a quarantine floor with funding from our region. Anything is possible when a community bands together.

The funding may come from the top, but only if there is first movement on the ground.

2) Make Financial Donations, If You Have the Means

Sometimes, advocacy can only go so far. Governments can neglect their housing and social obligations, even at the decry of advocates. As an example, the United States has recognized housing as a human right since 1948. However, they’ve consistently scaled back social housing programs and chronic homelessness has never been worse.

Rights and responsibilities don’t always make justice a reality; communities are often the ones that move these issues beyond aspirations.

Your financial donations make a big impact.

It can allow organizations to stomach the additional costs of purchasing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to keep frontline workers safe. Or, it can help organizations purchase food as many have been forced to decline food donations.

If enough of your community comes together, it may even be enough to offer new shelter or health services to homeless populations, which are needed now more than ever.

You may not have the capacity to donate financially if your job security may be grim in these precarious times. If you’re one of the millions of Americans that finds themselves in this boat, know this: it is okay to receive. Money comes, just like money goes. Part of how we will get through this is by giving; the other part is by receiving.

Please reach out for services and support if you need it.

3) Fortify Your Community’s Social Safety Net

Think globally, act locally. If there’s one thing the coronavirus pandemic has taught us, it’s this: we’re all about global. Globalization is as pervasive as the air we breathe. Our aptitude for hopping on planes and jetting around the world is, at least in part, what led us into this mess.

The coronavirus pandemic straddles this paradox: it is a global phenomenon whose transmission is local. Communities across the world need to band together (even if not physically) in order to battle this pandemic.

Connect with your neighbors, acquaintances or even strangers in your community. Find out how their life has been impacted by this pandemic. Maybe your neighbors have been laid off of work and are not eligible to receive mortgage deferrals from the bank. Your neighbor may need help with childcare if the local schools have shut down. Maybe your neighbor is elderly and needs someone to run to the store to grab groceries for them.

This pandemic gives us time to pause, ponder and reclaim our actions locally.

Although these supports are not directed at people experiencing homelessness, these measures may prevent homelessness. Most Americans have only $1,000 in savings; their social safety net may be thinner than you think.

4) Carve Some Time Into Your Schedule to Learn About Homelessness

We all have To-Do lists as long and vast as the Great Wall that spans China.

Your list may be filled with items for business or pleasure, they can be imperative or banal or they can be a combination of both, like mine. Regardless of what items fill your to-do list, we all experience a universal phenomenon: a shortage of time to knock off the items.

COVID-19 brings a full suite of unprecedented challenges; time, for many, is not one of them. There are few times in our adult lives when we have more time on our hands than we do tasks to complete.

Why not use a portion of that time to learn about homelessness?

There are countless reports, research papers and policy briefs on homelessness that you can read to augment your understanding of homelessness’ magnitude and reach in your country. There are brilliant digital advocacy projects that perfectly balance information and entertainment. Books have been written and films have been produced that can help you to understand the human condition and the experience of homelessness.

The learning opportunities are endless – here are numerous resources handpicked by our founder, Mark Horvath, to get you started:




Resources for Social Workers

  • C4 Innovations: Community & Behavioral Health – Recovery – Social Change

5) Get Political

Social distancing may have made our lives slow down, but the world of politics rages on. The primary elections are still taking place in the imminent future and the November 3rd Election Day persists. Reflect on which leaders will best advance the fight to end homelessness and poverty in America.

The right leader may push this dream towards a reality; the wrong leader could make it a nightmare. We choose on November 3rd.

2020 01 06 10.12.46 1

Sheridan Parker


Sheridan Parker is a writer, educator & activist, whose work touches mental health, addiction, and housing as she inspires transformational change within society and ourselves. You can follow her work at

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