Have you always felt limited in your ability to do something for the homeless population in your community? Maybe you don't have any significant money to donate to good causes or your schedule doesn't allow you to volunteer at your local homeless shelter. Well, cheer up -- you can still let these individuals know that you care in practical, thoughtful and imaginative ways. Here are three suggestions to consider.

1. Donate That Old Tent

You might assume that a homeless person would automatically prefer a homeless shelter over a night spent out in the open. After all, homeless shelters provide a secure, climate-controlled indoor environment as well as meals, donated clothing and other essentials. But there will always be those individuals who have no access to homeless shelters, miss the local shelter's check-in/check-out/curfew time or simply don't feel at ease around lots of strangers. These folks still need a way to protect themselves from the elements -- and you can provide them with one by donating a used tent.

Small, freestanding backpacking tents can be set up quickly and require no special tools -- and some can be anchored to the ground with a few rocks, which comes in handy whenever the terrain at a campground or other outdoor site is too hard to accept stakes. As long as the tent is sufficiently small and lightweight for easy carrying when folded, your abandoned recreational toy can play an important role in keeping a homeless individual warm and dry between homeless shelter stays.

2. Carry "Goodie Bags" in Your Car

Do you avoid giving money to homeless people on street corners because you're afraid it might go to some self-destructive purchase instead of the food they genuinely need? You can put this worry to rest by actually giving them food, water and other nourishing items -- and there's no more thoughtful way of doing this than by creating "goodie bags" that you carry in your car for just such an occasion.

Creating such a car kit is as simple as filling a small paper bag with a few canned items (choosing items with pull-tabs for easy access without a can opener), bottled water and an apple or packaged treat for dessert, along with plastic tableware and napkins. You can also pack a few personal care products or any other wholesome odds and ends the recipient is likely to appreciate. The next time you see a homeless person with a sign that reads "Hungry," hand one of these bags over with the assurance that you're giving that person a decent meal -- and not something that might do more harm than good.

3. Offer a Free Professional Service

Do you offer a professional service that might be greatly beneficial to members of the homeless community? If so, then you've got a powerful means of helping them right at your fingertips -- namely, your specific skills. Whether you're a freelance professional or you work for a charity-minded business, there are plenty of services you can offer to these individuals, either regularly or periodically. These could include:

  • Chair massage to combat chronic stress and physical problems
  • Barber or cleaning services to help homeless people apply for jobs
  • Writing/printing services to create resumes for job applicants
  • Graphics services to make new, beautiful, eye-catching signs

If you really want to amplify the power of your donated service efforts, try teaming up with other like-minded professionals to create a monthly "fair" aimed at providing several helpful services all in one spot. Move your collaborative effort from location to location to serve the widest possible swath of the homeless community. Your time, abilities and concern, presented with the proper focus and organization, could change many lives for the better.

From individual acts of kindness to organized group efforts, your ability to help the homeless is limited only by your imagination. Talk to your local homeless shelter or community service about these and other possibilities -- you might just surprise yourself with the sheer variety of ideas you come up with!