I was walking in River North early Sunday morning when a man who looked to be 30something approached to ask where to get the South Shore train. After I gave him the bad news that he was about a mile away, he said, “Thanks for talking to me. You’re the first person who did. People are so unfriendly here.”
I was taken aback, especially since I tell out-of-towners that Chicagoans are very friendly, unlike people in some East Coast cities. What I thought but didn’t say was that perhaps those he’d approached that frigid morning suspected that he would ask for money.
Then he added, “I’m an Iraq veteran,” and I thought, “Oh oh, here comes the request for money.”
But it didn’t. He thanked me and walked away, and I regretted my assumption.
If he had asked for money, though, would that have been reason to ignore him? I was on my way to church, a time when one’s presumably feeling charitable. What do my church’s clergy do about these appeals, I wondered, not for the first time.
The truth is, I still haven’t figured out how to respond to solicitations from homeless people, and I temper guilt by upping my recurring automatic contributions to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and the Greater Chicago Food Depository. That’s where most of my giving other than to church goes these days. A friend also donated in my name to the food depository this Christmas, and I filed away the idea as an excellent solution for what to give people who have everything they need.
Even though a December 31 giving deadline doesn’t affect me because I don’t itemize deductions on the 1040 form, at year’s end I generally review contributions to decide whether to change anything. Last week I researched local organizations that serve the homeless to confirm that the CCH and the GCFD are still top-ranked by Charity Navigator and other charity watchdogs. Indeed they are.
There are, of course, many worthwhile charities, and people support different causes depending on their personal priorities. But if you live in Chicago and every day pass by many homeless people, as I do, you might want to put one of the following organizations on your giving list. They all have Charity Navigator’s best ranking of four stars, indicating they are exceptionally efficient in how they will spend your money.
• Chicago Coalition for the Homeless is the state’s only nonprofit solely dedicated to advocating for and with homeless people. Its outreach at 35 shelter and street programs provides practical information to 7,500 youth and adults yearly. It partners with Chicago family housing providers to advocate new housing resources for homeless families. It mobilizes a state network of service providers. Its other services include a speakers bureau to increase awareness of homelessness and a mobile legal clinic that handles cases on behalf of homeless youth.
• The Greater Chicago Food Depository distributes donated and purchased food through a network of 700 pantries, soup kitchens, and shelters to about 700,000 adults and children in Cook County every year. It also develops programs to address the root causes of hunger.
• Deborah’s Place provides supportive housing for homeless woman and their children. It offers job readiness training, tutoring and education assistance, health services, case management, counseling, and social and life skills activities to help the women move on from homelessness. It has assisted more than 4,000 women in its more than 30 years.
• Sarah’s Circle is another charity that helps homeless women. Its provides supportive housing and comprehensive physical and clinical services and a network of resources to more than 900 women a year.
• Breakthrough Urban Ministries serves the people of East Garfield Park. Those who are homeless receive not just a bed but also mental health care, employment training, and housing search assistance.
• Another possibility is donating to a local food pantry or soup kitchen. Chances are you don’t have to look far to find one. Many neighborhoods and churches have programs that provide food. You also might want to volunteer there. I help cook one Sunday morning a month for the hot meal my church serves to scores of people, and many of the volunteers aren’t even members of the church. There’s a lot of camaraderie in the kitchen, and it’s a fun as well as rewarding experience.
My apologizes to deserving homelessness charities that aren’t listed here. This information came from Charity Navigator’s list of four-star charities serving the homeless in Chicago.