Craig and Marc Kielburger founded Free The Children, Me to We, and We Day. Find out more at we.org. Their biweekly Brain Storm column taps experts and readers for solutions to social issues.
The mammoth St Martin-in-the-Fields church in London's Trafalgar Square held a packed memorial in November for local residents who had died homeless on the city's streets.
Similar services happen outdoors in Canadian cities, offering a final touch of dignity to lives lived largely in the shadows.
Of the almost quarter of a million Canadians who experience homelessness at some point, 5,000 have no shelter.
"Living outdoors in the winter elements is incredibly difficult," says Jeremy Hunka of Vancouver's Union Gospel Mission. "But shelters are overwhelmed with demand." He adds that homeless individuals who struggle with mental illness and histories of abuse often can't trust others, and are reluctant to use shelters.
Each one of us can help improve the lives of our communities' most marginalized people. A humanizing "hello" and sincere eye contact are easy ways to show our compassion.
But most of us are conflicted about what else we can, or should, do.
In the U.S., two inspiring Harvard graduates are opening a student-run, nighttime shelter for homeless youth who often congregate on campus because they don't feel safe at shelters. Then there's the public relations executive in San Francisco, who met a homeless woman last year who hadn't been able to wash for days. That experience inspired the executive to start a non-profit that converts unused city buses into mobile shower facilities for people who are homelesss.
Big or small, any act of kindness makes a difference for someone living on the streets.
"Love them like family. They need that most of all," suggests our friend Hannah Taylor, who at age eight launched the Ladybug Foundation in 2004 to raise awareness and funds for Winnipeg's homeless population.
"Family would not let their loved ones eat from a garbage can, sleep on a sidewalk, or under a bridge, or freeze to death outside," she adds.
Meanwhile, Pascal Murphy, a Ryerson University instructor who teaches a course on homelessness in Canada, suggests standing on a busy street corner for 15 minutes holding out your hand for spare change. He says the exercise would give anyone a glimpse of how it feels to be homeless.
This week's question: How can we improve the lives of the homeless people in our communities?
Grant McKenzie, director of communications, Our Place Society homeless shelter, Victoria
"Many shelters are like community centres for the most vulnerable, and are always looking for volunteers who can teach fun and useful skills such as knitting, card making, cooking classes, or money management."
Derek Weiss, community engagement manager, Union Gospel Mission, Vancouver
"During winter, some homeless people have to walk on wet streets for days on end, risking painful blisters, or severe infections. Anyone can help by carrying a pair of warm socks to hand out as they walk by someone in need."
Isaac Coplan, education co-ordinator, Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association, Toronto
"Do you have extra rooms in your house because your kids have left home? Rent them out to students or young professionals for a good price. Adding one more option for housing frees more one more space of affordable housing elsewhere for your city's fight against homelessness."
Have your say in the comment section.