Home for the Holidays

Did you have a good night last night? Retiring to a cozy bed on a cold evening with hot chocolate by the bedside is a joy and a treat.

25,000 or more Canadians not only didn’t experience that last night, they have no home at all. Annually, 235,000 people in Canada experience homelessness. And let’s face it, the climate is not exactly conducive to a life on the streets.

How do people end up homeless? Many, many families live paycheck to paycheck. That means if the breadwinner loses his or her job, that family is literally weeks from losing whatever housing they currently have. An illness, a family crisis that demands more time than an employer is willing to tolerate, mental illness and inflation putting rent and food out of reach can all contribute.

Of course, adults suffer not only the stigma of homelessness, but the desperation and fear that having to fend for themselves on the streets brings. Streets that look safe and cheerful by day can become something entirely different at night.

Add in children, or perhaps a disability, to the mix and the situation becomes more grim.

Not guilt-tripping you

None of this is to shame you. Rather, it’s to open your eyes to the need around you and stir you to think of ways you can help through your business. If every business in the country helped one homeless person get off the streets, the problem would be solved.

What can you do? Here are some suggestions.

  • Find partners. There are organizations in your community that are dedicated to helping the homeless throughout the year, not just at the holidays. They know how to do things. What they need is willing hands to help. Check online for charitable groups or homeless organizations and get in touch.
  • Figure out what you have to offer. Yes, money is nice, but it’s probably in short supply right about now. But you have unique skills and assets to contribute to the effort. You can clean donated garments. You have garments in the “dead” area of your plant that have never been (and will never be) picked up. They can be donated. (Obviously, not all are suitable.) And you have one or more locations where people in the community can drop off donations to be cleaned and given to your community partner to distribute. You may have vehicles to help transport donations to the distribution center.
  • Get others involved. If your employees know you are making a commitment to make the community better, one person at a time, don’t be surprised if they want to join in. It costs very little to get t-shirts with your logo and “Community Volunteer” on them and give them to employees who want to help out. It makes them visible, gives you some nice attention, and makes them feel like a team. It also builds morale in your plant when they work together on something other than another load of clothes.
  • Plan for the long haul. It’s nice—and pretty easy—to get good publicity at the holidays by doing good in the community. But what’s more important is helping those down on their luck all year long. It’s not glamourous, and it may not win you any awards, but it’s rewarding all the same.

What’s in it for you?

Being an active,engaged, positive part of your town or city has a way of sending good things back to you. Customers remember those who are building up the place they live, and they patronize them. They also like to get involved in what you’re doing through giving money, clothes, etc.

There are dry cleaners and launderers all across Canada right now who are participating in programs like Coats for Kids and similar efforts. Learn about homelessness and act. For instance, most of the coats and garments donated are for children. But 80% of those in need on the street are adult men.

Why not run a campaign that includes both opportunities for customers to donate and information that makes their donations fit the need? A simple “FAQ” about homelessness to go along with your invitation to be part of it will open eyes and build a community of caring. It’ll pay dividends you can’t even imagine, and change lives for the better.

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