Homelessness has no quick fix.
The uphill battle of finding homes for marginalized people (especially during a time of slow economic recovery and widening income equality), can pit some communities against homeless individuals instead of against the deep-seeded societal issues contributing to their circumstances. In the past year alone, 33 American cities passed measures that restrict feeding the hungry in public.
Here are a few examples of local initiatives around the world that prove concrete action -- however big or small -- is where change starts. These groups are helping homeless people in their own backyards through innovative thinking and unrelenting compassion.
1. Oakland artist transforms trash into mini mobile homes.
California-based artist Gregory Kloehn swapped his job selling expensive sculptures -- ones that he said were just "sitting there" in wealthy people's houses -- for building mini shelters for the homeless. Oh, and they're made completely out of what was once garbage.
"[Homeless people] say this is just night and day, especially when it rains. Once your mattress gets wet, it's just terrible." - Gregory Kloehn
2. L.A. sets a goal to see the city's homeless students in caps and gowns.
Los Angeles is stepping up its efforts to get every homeless student across the stage at graduation. And they're succeeding. The city's Homeless Education Program was largely responsible for helping 100 homeless students graduate this past year, providing them with backpacks, school supplies and hygiene kits, as well as setting up wellness centers to enhance students' physical and mental health.
"Every time I try to give up, I think about it, and I'm like, 'You know what? No.' I'm not going to give up. Now that I've accomplished so many things, I'm not going to give up." - Nora Perez, student who benefitted from L.A.'s Homeless Education Program
3. Barcelona turns handwriting on cardboards into business opportunity.
The team at the Arrels Foundation in Barcelona don't see a lost cause when they pass disenfranchised folks with cardboard signs on the street — they see potential. With the help of advertising agency Cyranos McCann, the nonprofit transforms homeless people's handwriting into fonts, and sells the typefaces to brands. All revenue from sales go toward the organization's mission of helping Barcelona's roughly 3,000 homeless people.
"Each human being's handwriting is unique, yet the homeless write signs that no one wants to see. The same thing that helped them beg in the street could now help them to leave it behind." - Arrels Foundation
4. Vancouver's benches also provide shelter.
While several communities make their public spaces harsher for the homeless, Vancouver will have none of it. RainCity Housing created two types of benches to help its town's homeless people — one that flips into a temporary shelter with a makeshift roof, and another that sports glow-in-the-dark text, raising awareness about its mission.
"Simply put, our society cannot expect homeless people to just go away. They need a safe place to sleep and a base from which to stabilize their lives." - Spring Advertising's Creative Director, Rob Schlyecher
5. Salt Lake City has nearly ended veteran homelessness.
Salt Lake City cracked the code on chronic veteran homelessness. Last December, only 37 homeless veterans remained on its streets, Governing reported. Did it follow a complex, magical formula? Hardly. It simply provided housing to homeless veterans -- a tactic that actually saves taxpayers money. Across the state of Utah, chronic homelessness dropped 78 percent from 2005 to 2013.
“We’re going through this like gangbusters right now." - Elizabeth Buehler, homeless services coordinator for Salt Lake City, on her community's quick reduction of homeless veterans
6. Daytona Beach, Florida couple faced possible jail time to cook BBQs for homeless locals.
Debbie and Chico go above and beyond to help those struggling in the Sunshine State. The retired couple regularly gives hot dogs, chicken, pasta salad and more to roughly 100 homeless people on Manatee Island. They didn't even press pause when local police fined them $700 and threatened jail time for reportedly causing a ruckus in the community park where they serve meals. But their story has a happy ending: All charges against Chico and Debbie were eventually dropped.
"We’re going to court. The police don’t like it. But how can we turn our backs on the hungry? We can’t." - Debbie Jimenez
7. San Fran do-gooders wheel around showers to anyone who wants one.
There are 6,500 homeless people in San Francisco and only eight facilities provide showers for them, according to Lava Mae. So the nonprofit is doing something about it. After transforming a donated bus from a passenger vehicle into a complete bathing facility, Lava Mae takes its shower on wheels and draws water from fire hydrants at various locations, allowing homeless individuals the opportunity to feel clean.
"I just thought, if you can put gourmet food on wheels and take it anywhere, why not showers and toilets?" - Doniece Sandoval, Lava Mae founder
8. Austin crew turns 27 acres into pristine village of micro-homes.
A small group of faithful church-goers are offering a hand-up and fresh start to the homeless of Central Texas. In the works for more than a decade, Community First Village is a 27-acre master-planned neighborhood that provides affordable housing and a supportive community for about 200 chronically homeless people in the Lone Star State, KUT reported. The village, filled with cozy micro-houses for its residents, has a garden and on-site medical facilities, among other amenities.
“We haven’t converted everybody, but when people come out here they go, ‘Oh!’ They see a chapel, they see medical and vocational services on site, and they learn that residents will not live there for free -- they’ll pay a monthly rent.” - Alan Graham, brainpower behind Community First Village
9. Detroit pioneers keep homeless people (and the Earth) healthy.
We wouldn't bet against Detroit. While the city's undoubtedly seen better days -- there are roughly 20,000 homeless people in the Motor City, which is about one-fifth of Michigan's total homeless population, the Detroit Free Press notes -- the city has an army of proud advocates fighting on its behalf. Take, for instance, the team at Cass Community Social Services, which launched the nation's first-ever "green gym" for homeless men, women and children in 2010. According to MLive, the gym has electricity-generating stationary bikes that help keep facility operations both eco-friendly and cost-effective.
"Not only is this gym a good idea for the environment, but it will help build the general health of our clients who often struggle with diabetes or heart disease associated with obesity and weight gain." - Rev. Faith Fowler, Cass executive director
10. Seattleites launch fashion label to humanize homeless people.
Seattle's Union Gospel Mission is making a fashion statement, but it's gone far beyond just clothing. The emergency care and recovery service center took images of the city's homeless to place on shirts and launched a fashion line, titled "Others Like Us," with revenue benefiting the mission's goal of providing resources for its local homeless population.
"It's more than just a fashion statement. It's a human statement." - Seattle's Union Gospel Mission