Is Helping the Homeless Really Helping Them?

40 percent of the food that the U.S. produces each year is wasted. Saving 30 percent of that 40 percent would make food insecurity a thing of the past.

That’s what I tell every volunteer I guide through the city to bring restaurants’ leftover food to homeless shelters, rescue missions, and churches. Since last July, I have been a lead rescuer for Rescuing Leftover Cuisine, a non-profit food rescue organization based in NYC that focuses on eliminating food waste and insecurity simultaneously. For almost a year, I have been in close proximity to the city’s homeless population while wondering whether I should help them more or less.

While carrying out my duties of bringing both volunteers and food safely to the nearest church or homeless shelter, I found that the statistics on homelessness in the nation are less astonishing than how well-off some homeless people are. Certainly, there are patrons of the shelters who approach outsiders to network for job opportunities, but there are also patrons who approach bystanders to expand their social media following. The latter may leave you thinking, “What is he doing in a homeless shelter trying to get more Facebook likes and Instagram followers when he should be trying to get a job?”

To expand on that, you might ask yourself, “Why am I even bringing food to these so-called underprivileged people who have smartphones as nice as mine?”

People often visualize homeless people as old men with beards, more than three bags at any given time, and odd stenches. In May 2015, there was an estimated 59,000 people without shelter in New York City, so does that mean there are tens of thousands of stinky old men with beards walking around?

Despite common misconception, families, not men, are the majority group of homeless people. Lack of affordable housing, eviction, and overcrowded homes are common causes of homelessness in the city. A fair amount of the homeless are victims of violent acts or domestic abuse.

According to The Coalition for the Homeless, the number of people in NYC who sleep in shelters every night has spiked 79% in the last decade. Even so, it is hard to give a precise calculation of just how many people are living in New York City without a roof over their heads.

One might then ask, “Since these people are young, can’t they just get a job?” While many young homeless people make efforts to get hired, it is almost impossible to get employment without a fixed address. Thus, they must return to homeless shelters every evening just to receive a meal, if not a warm place to sleep.

Many times while delivering up to 30 pounds of food to The New York City Rescue Mission, I encountered patrons who were there for a plate of rice and chicken that most would take for granted. These people had all become a family, joking around and calling out each others names and laughing. Getting comfortable in an environment where everyone is in a situation similar to yours makes it easier, but being homeless is far from easy.


No one wants to be homeless, but anyone can be at any given moment. Statistics say that one out of every three working people are susceptible to being homeless. As soon as one is labeled ‘homeless,’ it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to pick himself or herself back up especially when all the eyes of society are looking down upon him or her. Thus, the answer to the question of whether or not the homeless should be receiving as much help as they do today is yes, they should.

Most homeless people once had jobs, houses, and families before life hit them with unexpected tragedies. It takes an enormous amount of persistence and effort just for a homeless man, woman, or child to survive and homelessness should not be looked down upon, especially in today’s society where everyone is striving for equality.