On any given night in America, anywhere from 700,000 to 2 million people have nowhere to go, nowhere to sleep. Have you seen them?

The top causes of homelessness are a lack of affordable rental housing and a rise in the poverty rate. The two often go hand in hand, making it doubly difficult to pay one’s own way.

“I’m digging in this trash can so I can (raise enough money) for a room.”

— Carlos González

Shelters offer relief on a first-come, first-served basis, but when they reach full capacity, they must turn the rest of those seeking a place to sleep away. And although most provide refuge for the night, the homeless must fend for themselves during the day.

To help them get back on their feet, Tzu Chi provides help to the homeless across the United States.

Breakfast is Ready

The city known for the world's most famous home - The White House - is also where the poverty rate is the highest in the country. 1 in 5 people live below the poverty line in the nation’s capitol, Washington, D.C.

Since 2004, local volunteers have been collecting bread that would have been discarded by local bakeries, and serving breakfast to the homeless.

 “I think waking up early is very rewarding. I like bringing a smile to people. I want to make a difference, so that people feel that they’ve been cared for.”

— Sue Fang Hsu, Tzu Chi Volunteer

 “I got up extra early knowing that it was going to be there. That made me feel warm… not everybody’s given up on you.”

— Derrick, Tzu Chi Breakfast Guest

Braving the Elements

During the winter, the temperature in Chicago routinely averages 20° Fahrenheit.

Shelters provide basic sleeping materials, but the homeless need more to stay warm. Since 2004, Tzu Chi volunteers have gone to local homeless shelters to provide comfort from the cold weather.

Blanket distribution at the Epworth Men’s Shelter, Chicago, Illinois

Each blanket is made from 70 recycled plastic bottles. To dispose of 70 bottles, it takes 1,764g of CO2 output, and 6,201ml of water.

“When Tzu Chi brought in the blankets, we gave them one a piece for each and everyone of our guys to keep… this way they could take them with them if they decide not to come back to the shelter… or they couldn’t get into the shelter, they still had something to keep warm with.”

— Vince Stefanelli, Director of Epworth Men’s Shelter 

Foot Warmers

On average, it rains roughly 150 days a year in Seattle, Washington.

Many charity programs provide food, blankets, and other pieces of clothing, but what about a remedy for wet feet?

In 2006, Tzu Chi’s young volunteers found a solution.

Each pair of socks is carefully wrapped, allowing volunteers to demonstrate care and respect when handing them out.

“A lot of the homeless are already wearing our socks and that makes me really happy since it shows that what we are giving is really needed.”

— Dai Yu, Tzu Chi Youth Volunteer

The Road Home

Skid Row, Los Angeles: Encouraged by the kindness of Tzu Chi Volunteers, Mary overcame her struggle with homelessness.

“When I go back east, I will still have you in my heart. I will still pray for you guys. I will keep you in my mind ’til the day I die.”

— Mary

You too can help the homeless find their way home.