The Christmas holiday is in full swing as folks prepare to spend time with friends and family and celebrate the season.
Special meals, gifts and family traditions are high points for most people. For homeless residents and those struggling just to keep a roof over their heads, holiday extras aren’t always on the agenda.
But Osceola County nonprofits, churches and other charitable groups are working to help those in need this holiday season. And small donations can have a big impact, they say.
“We need more personal hygiene items this time of year, particularly socks and underwear,” said Rev. Mary Downey, executive director of the Community Hope Center.
“It’s been a little colder and we have people walking around with cold and wet socks, so we really can help save lives by keeping people warm,” said Downey, one of Osceola’s leading advocates for affordable housing and assistance for people living on the street and in poverty.
“Homelessness does not take a holiday break,” Downey wrote in a letter to Hope Center supporters this week.
There are approximately 250 people living in outdoor camps tucked away around Osceola County. Thousands more live in rent-by-the-week motels, one step away from having nowhere to go.
The Hope Center helped 14 chronically homeless people get a stable place to live in 2018 and another 68 families transition into self-sufficiency.
“The average cost of moving someone from dependence to success is $2,500. This or any amount will make a real difference in the lives of homeless and precariously housed individuals and families,” she said.
While organizations such as the Hope Center, on U.S. Highway 192, work on both short-term and long-term needs, others such as the Osceola Christian Ministry Center, in downtown Kissimmee, offer help with more immediate needs such as hot meals, showers and clean clothes Monday through Friday.
There is no homeless shelter in Osceola County. Help Now of Osceola operates a facility for domestic abuse survivors and their dependents.
Meanwhile, efforts to build more affordable housing in Osceola County are ongoing. Osceola County in 2017 donated a $600,000 parcel of land for the Cameron Preserve apartment complex. The privately built affordable housing complex was supposed to open this summer but is behind schedule.
“I don’t care who builds affordable, we just need rents below $1,000 a month,” said Downey, whose organization works closely with Osceola County and the city of Kissimmee. “Affordable housing in the biggest need in this community.”
The Hope Center this year secured property near its headquarters on 192 that’s being considered for an affordable housing village with wrap-around social services for residents”
But people don’t have to have the answers to tough social problems to help, she said.
“We always need support going forward with our programs when it comes to advocacy work, whether it’s help in the food pantry or the clothes closet or direct advocacy work,” she said.
The center’s upcoming IDignity event in February needs volunteers. The event helps homeless and impoverished people get Florida identification cards, one of the first steps to getting off the streets.
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Tips for packing a kit
If you want to donate directly to someone living on the street, take these tips from the Orlando Union Rescue Mission into consideration
Possible items to include:
• New socks, new underwear
• Bottled water
• Non-perishable easy-to eat foods
• Gift certificates to fast-food restaurants
• Tampons and pads
• Toothbrush and toothpaste
• Nail clippers, bandaids, chapstick, sunscreen
• Mints, cough drops, gum
• A note of encouragement
Keep in Mind:
• Soaps and other hygiene items that contain fragrance can affect food in same package so pack those items separately if you choose to give them.
• Avoid hand sanitizer, mouthwash and other items that contain alcohol.
• You can have a care kit party with friends, coworkers or family members to purchase supplies and make the kits together.
When giving kits away:
• Don’t be in a hurry. It’s OK to slip it out your window to someone on a street corner or freeway ramp. But consider taking time to park the car and hand-deliver it.
• Make eye contact to show the person they matter.
• Don’t give money. It’s your decision, of course, but it’s generally discouraged to giving cash. Instead, ask what their immediate need is and consider how you can help. Buy them a meal? A bus ticket?
• Be wise. The majority of homeless men and women are not dangerous — they’re people just like you. But it’s smart to go out as a group when handing out care kits.