How to help out low-income and homeless Vancouverites this winter

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By Lauren Kelly, Editor-in-Chief

Whatever you celebrate, this time of year is all about giving. However, with all the hustle and bustle, it can often be easy to forget about those who need it the most. We have a large homeless population in Vancouver, many of whom are sleeping on the streets. There are many ways to help them out during our often chilly Vancouver winter without just handing out change.

For those of us without much money to spare, you can support Megaphone vendors. They sell their issues for a $2 suggested donation, although you can give more. These are weekly magazines filled with interesting articles and pieces by writers from the DTES. Vendors buy the magazines for $.75, allowing them to turn a profit of $1.25 an issue, which they keep 100 per cent of. Additionally, every December many of the vendors sell Hope in Shadows calendars, which cost $10 for the vendor and $20 for the customer. These calendars are filled with pictures of the DTES by photographers who live there, and make for a fantastic gift. I’ve had one for the last five or so years, and always look forward to seeing the next month.

For those of us with a bit more time and money, you can create care packages. A care package can contain a wide variety of items, from food to clothes to everyday essentials. This isn’t as tough as it sounds, and if you can get a few people together on it, it should be relatively inexpensive. Take a trip to your local Costco or other bulk retailer and stock up, since that will be the most cost effective option, and you’ll be packing the same stuff into most of your packages. Many websites recommend packing it into a large Ziploc bag, with food kept in a smaller one to avoid the food smelling like shampoo. Others recommend a small backpack, which is obviously preferable, but might be out of your price range.

Here are some great options for what to pack in yours:

  • Warm socks. It’s never comfortable to have cold feet, and many homeless people will be spending a lot of time on theirs. A pair or two will be a welcome addition, and you can often buy them at cheaper retailers for about $10 for 4–6 pairs. You can throw in some gloves as well.
  • Rain ponchos. Many are very cheap, and are much lighter to pack up and bring around than an umbrella (and keep more of you dry!).
  • Baby wipes. Hand sanitizer may seem like a good idea, but you want to avoid products that include alcohol (this goes for mouth wash, as well). Baby wipes are very portable, stay wet as long as the package is sealed, and allow you to wipe your hands, face, body, clothes, or anything around you.
  • A toothbrush, travel-sized toothpaste, and travel-sized 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner. Most homeless people will not have access to dental care, so having an easy way to take care of this will be a huge help. It’s easy to get cheap toothbrushes in bulk, as well.
  • Pads and tampons. It’s awful enough having your period when you have access to all of these supplies and a toilet. It can often be something that is overlooked, but it’s so important. Have a couple care packages set aside for women and transmen, and load them up with both.
  • Disposable razors. Great for men especially, but handy for women, too. Again, cheap to buy in bulk and light for carrying around!
  • A pack of rolling papers. These allow people to buy loose tobacco, which is much cheaper than buying packs. They can also be used to roll up cigarette butts. At about $2 a pack, one or two will be a welcome addition, and if they don’t smoke they can trade it with someone else.
  • A bottle of water. This should be self-explanatory, but having clean water and the ability to refill the bottle afterwards is very helpful. Additionally, having something to keep water in will be helpful for washing and brushing their teeth.
  • Keep food soft—as mentioned before, many homeless people have poor or no teeth. This will make things like granola bars and trail mix a no go. However, there are many good options for portable food. Kellogg’s Nutrigrain bars have a soft outside and fruit on the inside. Dried fruit is also good, because it will be easy for you to portion and they can have as much as they want at a time. Lastly, jerky is very popular, and it has a lot of protein.
  • A gift card for a fast food restaurant, such as McDonald’s or Tim Horton’s. This will allow them to get out of the cold and eat or drink something warm. Many places only offer washrooms to paying customers as well, so this will let them use the facilities if they need them. Although the more money the better, even $5 or $10 will make a huge difference.

Above all, stay safe. Go out with a buddy or two—preferably your care package building people!—and hand these out to people in need. If you feel safe, stay and chat for a bit too. Most people just walk past those who are living on our streets, but they’re people like us, full of interesting stories and a desire for companionship, even if just for a short while.