Home » Perspective | You Actually Can Help the Homeless

Perspective | You Actually Can Help the Homeless

501(c)(3) groups serve truly needy, address root causes
Mark Green is executive editor of The Lane Report.

Strongly consider charitable action benefiting the surprisingly numerous homeless in our communities today. Dozens of deserving organizations across our commonwealth work day and night to help Kentuckians whose lives aren’t working out as they – and we – had hoped.

More than 4,000 or about one-tenth of 1% of all Kentuckians were experiencing homelessness when data for the 2018 federal Continuum of Care report was compiled, in part by going onto the street and counting.

Establishing an ongoing charitable relationship with one of these aid and service operations can have a far-reaching impact. If the organization is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, and most are, all the support is tax deductible.

Importantly, you can be confident it’s one of the most efficient ways to help your community. Dollars and donations are stretched to benefit the truly homeless and in need, and almost all these operations have programs that directly address root causes – which generate a spectrum of problems eventually laid at taxpayer feet.

It is not enjoyable to think about the homeless and generally we don’t. Meanwhile, the most visible among them, aggressive panhandlers on urban street corners, generate at least as much suspicion as sympathy – is that person even really homeless, and will any dollars they guilt out of me go to substance abuse?

There may be some truth in presumptions about those different from us, but our stereotypes are always a superficial perspective. The deeper, full truth is complex and conflicted. We know life is complicated when it goes well and we act responsibly. Our fellow Kentuckians did not become homeless by design (nor sometimes did those focused on helping them plan to take on their role).

Jeffrey White has special insight into Kentucky homelessness. For nine years he has been executive director of The Nest (thenestlexington.org), a Lexington-based center for women, children and families in crisis serving 17 counties. A banker for most of his adult life, White got a call in 2010 from the previous director, who asked if he could help The Nest with budget projections and financials. He met the board, helped them with the financials and at his own suggestion created an HR manual.

When the executive director suddenly left, the board asked White to take the position. He didn’t want it – “… then I met the kids.” White couldn’t say no to the opportunity to have positive, life-changing impact.

“The children are so fresh,” he said. “They are just starting out in life.”

White said the services The Nest and similar entities provide at moments of peak difficulty – removing the stress of where a child is going to be able to sleep, eat, bathe and have simple needs met – “are so critical to their character, their ability to imagine or laugh or whatever.”

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Parent-child units are common, but The Nest occasionally cares for infants in need, White said.

“We are helping the homeless, but mostly we are helping the working poor,” White said. “It’s not that they aren’t working, but they make $8, $9, $10 an hour, and they have children.”

In the absence of other familial support, a car repair or illness means deciding what they will do without. The Nest helps 400 families a month meet basic human needs such as food, diapers, clothing and more, he said.

There are dozens of similar organizations in Kentucky. Examples in Lexington include Step By Step (sbslex.org) and Arbor Youth (arborky.org).

In Louisville, Wayside Christian Mission (waysidechristianmission.org) provides an expansive range of programs and services. Home of the Innocents (homeoftheinnocents.org) has provided residential care for abused, neglected and abandoned children since 1880. Re:Center Ministries (recenterministries.org) opened as Louisville Rescue Mission for women and children in 1881, rebranding last year and expanding its Southern Baptist-based spiritual care programs into nearby Indiana.

There are many more in our commonwealth that are worth helping. They will invest any goods, personal time and cash they get well. Go to their websites and find the “donate” link. Small regular monthly contributions make a big difference. You’ll get a thank you letter as your tax receipt.

Mark Green is executive editor of The Lane Report. Opinions expressed are those of the writer and not The Lane Report.