How to help the homeless in the coldJanuary 8, 2010 9:13 a.m. ESTSTORY HIGHLIGHTS
- If someone is in need, call social services hot line or 911, experts say
- Agencies have the necessary training and resources, they say
- Gift of blanket or coat could keep someone from seeking long-term help
- Respect people's right to refuse help, advocate says
(CNN) -- The weather has turned dangerously cold in much of the country, putting homeless people at high risk of injury or even death. If you encounter someone and want to help, what should you do?
The specific answer depends on the circumstances, but those who work with the homeless every day agree you generally should leave social services to the professionals.
"Most communities have some kind of crisis hot line, or the local United Way will have a 211 line," said Brian O'Malley, executive director of the Homeless Services Coalition of Greater Kansas City, in Missouri. In some cities, including New York, the hot line number is 311.
Your hot line call will prompt a local homeless services agency to dispatch outreach workers to help the person in need, said O'Malley and his counterparts in New York and Charlotte, North Carolina.
"We've been doing this work for a very long time, and what we tell people is it is better to donate funds and resources to organizations that are in the business of helping homeless people and have professionals on their staff who know how to do this," said Stephan Russo, executive director of Goddard Riverside Community Center, the lead homeless services agency in Manhattan.
Or, come to Little Christmas at Little House and bring a hat, gloves, or blankets for the Winter outreach.
"If you see someone who needs a coat and you have a coat, offer it to them. I don't have a problem with that," O'Malley said. "If the person is reluctant, lay the coat on the ground and leave."