This week marks both Thanksgiving and the start of the winter holiday season. It’s a time to spend with family and friends, and also a time when many people wish to give back, donating to charities or volunteering at shelters, nonprofits and other altruistic places. And locally, many will, giving their time to shelters such as the Midnight Mission or raising money via the Turkey Trot this Thursday. That is commendable, but that mindset should not be limited solely to the holiday season.
The irony isn’t lost on this paper that we are making this case three days before Thanksgiving. Many service providers and organizations are very vocal in their call for volunteers, citing specific events that require additional people. However, it’s worth noting that they are no less in need during the rest of the year. The homelessness crisis and poverty doesn’t exist only on Thanksgiving and Christmas, and neither does opportunities to volunteer.
Even if you look at just late fall and early winter, you can help in many ways. This holiday season comes after a notable spike in homelessness in the county and city, and in Downtown. The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s annual homeless count found an 11% increase in Skid Row over last year, similar increases were reported in the city and across the county.
This period of the year is one of the toughest for homeless individuals in Downtown, due to additional hardships brought on by the winter months. Thanksgiving arrives just after the start of the rainy season this year — Los Angeles experienced the first heavy rain of the season last week, drenching city sidewalks with rain and even hail. In Skid Row and across Downtown, many people live exposed to the elements, in dirty conditions made worse by the rain. Many will be seeking beds in the city’s limited shelter stock. At the same time, organizations are looking for supplies and volunteers to provide warm clothes, pack hygiene kits and donate sleeping bags and other items.
Missions and other spaces point out that these items are also needed year round. Many of the holiday events, such as setting up for Thanksgiving dinners in Skid Row, actually fill up quickly and don’t need additional volunteers. That should not be interpreted as these organizations having all the resources they need, year round, however.
Many nonprofits, missions and other charities often have a full-time volunteer coordinator who is available to provide insight on when and where their organization needs the most help, and how resources can best be allocated. Downtown residents should reach out and find out how they can most effectively lend their time and energy to help those in need.
As Downtown continues to grow, both with new buildings and an expanding residential population, it must keep its less fortunate in mind. A community is defined in part by how it helps one another. And that cannot just be on major holidays.