Reaching out by volunteering your time to work directly with people experiencing homelessness is one of the best ways to learn about homelessness and help to meet immediate needs at the same time.  There is a lot of “behind the scenes” work (filing, sorting clothes, cutting vegetables, etc.) to be done at shelters and other direct service agencies. Think about what you do best and the kind of setting in which you work most effectively—with individuals or groups, with men, women, or children, and so on. Then, call a few places, ask what help they need, and arrange for a visit.

Remember that service providers need help at all times of year—not just holidays—and will appreciate regular volunteers who can be counted on to show up. 

Here are some ways you might help:

Work at a shelter. Take an evening or overnight shift.  Help with clerical work such as answering phones, typing, filing, or sorting mail.  Serve food, wash dishes, or sort and distribute clothes.

Help build or fix up houses or shelters. Check with your local public housing authority, or find the nearest chapter of Habitat for Humanity by calling (800) 422-4828 or visiting

Offer professional skills directly or assist in job training. Direct service providers may be able to use many services and skills, including secretarial, catering, plumbing, accounting, management, carpentry, public relations, fundraising, legal, medical, dentistry, writing, child care, counseling, tutoring, or mentoring.

Share hobbies. Teach your hobbies to a group of people staying at a homeless shelter.  Ask them about their hobbies and have them teach you.

Invite people experiencing homelessness to a community event.  Invite people who are experiencing homelessness to a worship service, public concert or picnic, city council meeting, etc.

Organize an event at a shelter. Plan an evening program such as a board game or chess night, an open mic poetry reading, a guest storytelling or musical performance, or a holiday party.

Work with children.  Assist program directors that are coordinating events such as field trips, picnics or art workshops for children staying in homeless shelters.  Find out if there are children who could benefit from tutors or mentors.

Involve others! Encourage your classmates, co-workers, church/synagogue members, or civic club to join or support your efforts.