CAMDEN, NJ — The Camden County Freeholder Board has launched a new initiative aimed at addressing persistent homelessness.

Hearts and Hands for the Homeless is aimed at funneling charitable giving to effective organizations and volunteer opportunities while discouraging panhandling and other forms of solicitation.

Years of destigmatization has helped to generate compassion for those suffering from homelessness and has stimulated a renewed interest in helping the homeless population. The Freeholder Board is encouraging that giving to be done in ways that address the issue on a broader scale than for just one person.

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“Sometimes what an individual does as an effort to help does little to solve the underlying problem of homelessness. In fact, public feedings and giving to panhandlers often serves as a vehicle that enable the homeless to remain in crisis rather than seek the help that they need,” said Freeholder Carmen Rodriguez, liaison to the Department of Health and Human Services. “While we want to recognize the incredible generosity and compassion that motivates giving, we also want to encourage our homeless population to connect with professional agencies to get more, long-term help so as to permanently end homelessness.”

Advocates for homelessness prevention have found that when panhandlers can count on spontaneous giving by members of the public, they become less likely to seek professional services and more likely to remain homeless. For this reason, individual acts of generosity on the street often fuel a cycle of homelessness and hunger.

Hearts and Hands for the Homeless is designed to redirect charitable interests aimed at helping the homeless toward opportunities to volunteer or give strategically, and to shift perceptions regarding which forms of outreach are most impactful. By reorienting individuals away from direct intervention and instead to supporting shelters, food kitchens, and other professional services, we can do more to effectively address homelessness than by relying on individual acts of kindness.

“Many people want to help and are doing what they believe is within their reach in order to help individuals in need,” Rodriguez said. “The truth is that the five dollars you were going to give to someone on the street would go much further and help more people if it was given to a charitable organization or agency dedicated to serving the homeless.”

Volunteer and donation opportunities for local agencies who are serving the homeless in Camden County can be found at www.camdencounty.com/heartsandhands. A current list of organizations looking for community support includes the Sanctuary Foundation for Veterans in Lawnside; Building Bridges Family Success Center, Center for Family Services in Clementon; and Joseph’s House in Camden City.

Individuals who are in need of services are also encouraged to visit the site or call 2-1-1.