How you can help the homeless

In our little corner of Detroit, we have a person on the corner of MLK Jr. Boulevard and the off-ramp from I-96. He’s a disabled veteran who panhandles for money on most days. We’ve sent Stephanie, our Outreach Manager, out regularly to check on him and offer him help. Our Major Gift Officer, Carolyn, often prays for him. It is hard for me to know that we have all the knowledge and resources available to help people experiencing homelessness or ones who find this is their only way of making an income, but we can’t seem to help him find a different path.

It got me thinking about why are people homeless and how can people be of the most help? We think this information may be useful to you as you encounter people on street corners and homeless men and women around town.

Every panhandler (or begger) is homeless

False.  While there may be  overlap between panhandlers and the homeless, it is not always one and the same. Sometimes, for whatever reason, people feel like panhandling is a  way they can make an income. However, some panhandlers are, in fact homeless and often sleep where you see them, such as under a freeway overpass.

Panhandlers are actually living comfortably and are just trying to scam you out of money

False. Certainly you hear of a rare or extreme case on the news but more often than not, they are just regular people who are down on their luck and this is the only way they can think of to make money. They are outside for hours and hours, often in unpleasant and sometimes unsafe conditions just to make a couple bucks. It’s not a situation most of us would like to experience, but those on the streets feel they have no choice.

Homeless people and panhandlers are just lazy

False. The vast majority of people who are experiencing homelessness are some of the hardest workers. Even here at Covenant House Michigan, we have residents working long hours, sometimes up to three jobs, just to make sure they never have to go through homelessness again. Our young people are often homeless through no fault of their own, and experience situations out of their control like family instability, mental illness, or aging out of foster care.

For all those people you see on the street, asking for help with silent sad eyes, here is how you can help:


Help for a night – Anything you can do for a homeless person or panhandler is a gift. We recommend stocking up on energy bars or hats and gloves to give out, especially during winter. We also recommend having a few gift cards to local restaurants on hand to provide a nutritious meal.

Help for a lifetime – Without a doubt, connecting a homeless person with the appropriate shelter and support services is the number one way to change their life. If you’re concerned for someone in the metro Detroit please call the Coordinated Assessment Model (CAM) Phone Line at (313)305-0311. In both Grand Rapids and Detroit use the United Way Hotline at 2-1-1. They’ll be able to help find a way to connect that person to shelter and services.

Of course, the best way to help homeless people is to support all shelters, but particularly ones with wrap-around services, like Covenant House Michigan. For instance, today I’m looking at the most current data on our emergency shelter residents. The number that jumps out to me is our recidivism rate – it’s at 2.11%. That means only 2% of the young people we see end up back in a homeless situation and back in our shelter. The state average for other shelters is 29.82%. We want to help young people for a lifetime, to make sure that they’re finding a different path besides panhandling for a brighter future. If you’re interested in supporting our young people, please donate here or find ways to volunteer here.