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EDITORIAL: To help homeless, give to charities

The holiday season is a time to cherish our families and reflect on our many blessings. It is a time of giving and good will.

This annual outpouring of generosity inspires countless Southern Nevadans to share their good fortune with the less fortunate. The resulting acts of charity fill food banks, fund nonprofits, provide Christmas presents to children who otherwise wouldn’t get any and lift the spirits of the needy. There are literally hundreds of valley organizations that help residents share this kindness, using their expertise and contacts to put donated time and goods to the most productive use possible.

However, many people prefer to deliver their benevolence directly. As reported Saturday by the Review-Journal’s Rochel Leah Goldblatt, thoughtful residents frequently travel downtown and seek out the homeless to hand out food, clothing and blankets, believing it does just as much good to bypass social workers and shelters.

These people will be sad to learn that much of what they hand out winds up in the trash.

It’s often cleaned up by city workers and charity volunteers, after the homeless have used what they can and left behind the rest. Because homeless encampments and favored sidewalks are often contaminated with human vomit and waste, there is no salvaging otherwise good blankets and jackets. It all becomes a public health hazard.

“If we didn’t clean it up, it would be a complete mess,” Catholic Charities volunteer Lavett Moore told Ms. Goldblatt. “Instead of utilizing the trash (cans), they (the homeless) are throwing it on the street.”

No doubt, on this Christmas Eve, many community-minded individuals are planning similar outings, collecting clothes and cooking hot meals with hopes of brightening the holiday for our most vulnerable population.

Leading charities and Las Vegas police have a simple request for these concerned Clark County residents: Don’t do it. Donate to a charity that provides services to the homeless instead.

“If you donate to these agencies, you make a bigger impact,” Annie Wilson, Las Vegas police liaison for the homeless, told Ms. Goldblatt. “Most of the folks out here, we know. We’ve known them for years. It’s about collaboration and working together as a team.”

The holiday spirit inspires so much more direct giving to the homeless that it piles up quickly. The day after Thanksgiving, Ms. Goldblatt reported, the city filled three garbage trucks with spoiled, unusable donated items on Foremaster Lane, between Main Street and Las Vegas Boulevard. A similar pile could accumulate by Thursday morning.

“We’re thrilled people are giving,” said John Fogel, director of development at Las Vegas Rescue Mission. “We want it to go to the best use and not just end up on the sidewalk.”

Another reason to give to charitable groups: It isn’t safe to offer food or clothes to a homeless person on the street. Mental illness is common among the homeless. “We’ve had people attack the people who try to help them,” said police officer Aden Ocampogomez.

With so many people in need, it’s a shame to see so many well-intentioned acts go to waste. To do the most good, help charities help the homeless.

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