5 ways you can help those facing homelessness in the cold

Heading inside is not always a realistic option for individuals and families experiencing homelessness.

(CNN)Plummeting temperatures are forcing people indoors seeking warmth.

But for those who call city streets home, heading inside is not always a realistic option.
Homelessness across the US is reaching record highs, due to the economic impact of coronavirus.
And as shelters deal with increased occupancy, the pandemic also poses immense safety challenges to people seeking refuge.
    It all leads to an increase in people literally stuck out in the cold.
    Instead of walking by, here are a few ways you can help:

    Locate a shelter or warming center

    From your smartphone you can connect someone you believe to be experiencing homelessness with support. The Salvation Army claims to have a presence in nearly every zip code across the country. And every location can serve as a warming station.
    "The pandemic has been laid on top of an epidemic. The epidemic of homelessness in our country has been a tragedy, and the pandemic has made that challenge all the greater," says Salvation Army Commissioner Kenneth Hodder.
    The organization is tailoring responses to fit the unique needs of each of its communities — including locations caught up in the current cold snap. People can locate their nearest Salvation Army center through the organization's online location finder.
    With increased demand, Hodder explains that local chapters are getting creative to meet the needs of this unprecedented time. He says some locations are transforming everyday spaces like thrift stores and school gyms into shelters and warming centers. Hodder says each warming center is following state Covid-19 safety guidelines including social distancing and providing PPE.
    In Poughkeepsie, New York, Salvation Army staff are tying winter weather items to light poles for those who may need them.
    "The Salvation Army is involved coast to coast in dealing with the challenges of these extraordinarily cold days," Hodder tells CNN.
    The non-profit is also encouraging those who want to get involved to consider inventive, grassroots solutions. For example, in Poughkeepsie, New York, Salvation Army staff tied winter weather gear to light poles to be fully at the disposal of those who need them.
    "Even if they can't get to us, they have access to warm clothing," Hodder tells CNN.
    He points out that a roof over one's head, doesn't necessarily mean heat in one's home. As Covid-19 decimates household budgets, millions of Americans are forced to prioritize paying for housing over affording utilities and food.
    "Last year, almost 10 million people lost their jobs. Last year, another 8 million fell into poverty. These are the people who are going to be suffering the most this week."
    For these individuals, Hodder recommends placing a call to 1-800-SAL-ARMY to connect those in need directly to helpful resources.
    "If they do not have enough heat, if they are stranded as a traveler, if they find their children don't have enough blankets ... we'll get to them and we will provide what help they need."
    In addition to the Salvation Army, shelters can also be located through the US Department of Housing and Urban Development's shelter finder here. The site also provides directions for finding food pantries and health clinics.
    By calling 211, people in need can locate direct-relief services within their community. The United Way has also launched its Ride United Last Mile delivery program in partnership with Lyft and Doordash to bridge a transportation gap between food pantries and vulnerable populations.

    Make warm meals, donate rides, call 211

    On cold days, a hot homemade meal can go a long way. So consider making meals and delivering them to those living outdoors.
    Mei Cobb, of the United Way, has seen volunteers make hot meals in group kitchens and distribute them in places where people experiencing homelessness often gather.
    "Some are actually putting together a meal that can be heated," Cobb tells CNN.
    In response to Covid-19, The United Way launched its Ride United Last Mile delivery program in partnership with Lyft and Doordash. Donations toward this initiative help bridge a transportation gap between food pantries and vulnerable populations.
    The United Way also says many of its local partners are accepting winter coat donations. By donating a gently used coat though a local United Way chapter, someone living outdoors may have better protection against frigid temperatures. To maximize efforts, at-home volunteers can organize a clothing drive among family and friends, with support of a local United Way chapter.
    A man experiencing homelessness peeks out of his tent during record-breaking cold weather in Oklahoma City.