How to Help the Homeless
Even if you’re not a homeless advocate, or believe they are the masters of their own fate (ultimately labeling their condition as a fault of their own), playing a part in the recovery of homeless people helps your community and family. You don’t have to contribute much- even your support at an occasional community meeting is valued. And no, I don’t mean the kind of support which makes homelessness “illegal.” Those short-sighted tactics do not address the heart of the problem- they actually exacerbate homelessness and and make it worse.
When it comes to helping homeless people, the lines are blurred as to what is effective, and what may enable their state of transience and potential drug addictions. Truth be told, many abstain from giving the homeless handouts because they’re afraid their hard-earned money will go towards funding a drug habit.
What are we to do?
Should You Give Money to the Homeless?
Will your money go to drugs? It’s entirely possible. Substance use disorders hijack the brain and place addictive substances of choice above all other necessities- like food and shelter. Addiction is a sickness, and is identified as a brain disease. This effect is literally the cause of something biologically amiss. Should we punish them for that?
If you don’t want to give out money, you can try giving small gift cards for food places in your area. Maybe even a small visa gift card, which can contribute to hotel funds- or toiletries, or anything we take for granted. Homeless help kits are a great substitute if you want to help.
How to Make Helpful Homeless Kits
A homeless kit is an essential emergency supply drop for homeless people. They are exceedingly helpful, and surprisingly easy to assemble. Not only a great alternative for giving cash, they often contain things a homeless person may not spend money on, because their last dollar goes to food. But that doesn’t mean they don’t need those resources.
A Few Warnings on Preparing Homeless Help Kits
- Don’t pack soap! According to TVS soap makes every food product taste like soap. They recommend separating toiletries from food altogether. Ultimately they advise to exclude soap altogether- as access to soap should be available with a shower.
I have to disagree– while it’s wonderful to learn about the soap-food tip, I do think soap is necessary. What about bathrooms without soap? What if you need to wash up quickly?
I would personally wrap the soap up and hand it over in a separate bag.
- Don’t include foods that are sticky, hard, or overly sugary. Many homeless people have poor teeth, because access to dentistry is virtually non-existent.
I once bought a homeless man- Andy- a bagel, because I was also having a bagel, to learn he could not chew it. His teeth were that degraded. I did end up getting him an omelet instead, but it was a valuable lesson.
- TVS cautions against giving out hand-me-downs, but I disagree. Sharing resources is key to sustaining communities- even outside the spectrum of homelessness. Think of thrift stores (my personal favorite), charity events, and donation drives. Don’t pass along something that is in poor condition, but don’t waste the resources you have and give them to someone who needs them if you no longer have a use for them.
What to Include in Homeless Kits
Think of the necessities you take for granted- your bathroom can be great inspiration. And ladies consider buying a pack of tampons and pads (you can even grab them at the dollar store) and including them in your kits (guys- take note too!). There’s nothing worse than being homeless without feminine hygiene products.
Guys, can you recommend a male specific need ladies may gloss over?
Toiletries to Include in Kits for Homeless People
- Baby Wipes
- Lip Balm
- Sunscreen (Especially for us Floridians!)
- Body Spray
- Towels (Be mindful of size)
Food to Pack in Homeless Kits
- Pudding Cups
- Trail Mix
- Beef Jerky
- Peanut Butter
- Canned Food with Pull-Off Lids
- Forks or Knives (Plastic is convenient, but metal is long lasting)
- Pet Food (Keep some in your trunk, and if you notice– or ask, asking is great— offer to give some)
Survival/Comfort Items to Include in Homeless Kits
- Blankets (Great find a thrifts- even throw blankets. Just give them a wash.)
- Water Bottles (The reusable ones)
- Gift Cards
- First Aid Supplies
- Toothbrush (Try soft bristles just in case)
- Duct Tape (To fix things they may have)
- Bug repellent
- Bus Passes
- Zip Lock Bags (Keeps things dry)
- Umbrella (Heads up Florida! Don’t you hate leaving your umbrella at home?)
- Pocket Mirrors
- Shoe Glue (Shoes are often run-down)
- Toilet Paper
- Notebook & Pens
Resources for Local Homeless Shelters and Addiction Treatment Centers
- Homeless Shelters
- Soup Kitchens
- Homeless Programs (Like address providers like the UPS)
- Free Clinics
- Insurance Sign-Up Resources
- Program Information for Homeless Help
- Businesses Hiring Homeless People (a quick google search is all you need)
- Business Cards for People Who Specialize in Helping the Homeless/Coalitions
Send them a request for business cards and brochures!
- Addiction Treatment Centers
Last, but certainly not least, include a heartfelt letter. Homeless people are often lonely and feel like no one cares about them. One little letter will make a world of difference. If you’re not one for writing, you can always hand write (or print out) some uplifting quotes. (Try to avoid religious text, not everyone practices the same religion.)
I personally include quick mini guides on how to cope with anger, the basics of meditation, and coming to terms with getting help because sharing information on helpful skills can help homeless people cope with their surroundings. Truth be told, they may be so emotionally and mentally drained, these things are easily discarded, but at least the resource is there.
Many homeless people I meet just want to sit and talk with me, because they are often rejected from most of society. Whenever I ask a homeless person their name, there is always a look of heartbreaking surprise, they are typically always happy to chat with me. A single kind word can make the world of difference in someone’s day.
What are some unique tools and mini guides you can share with your homeless community? You may include a guide on going to a residential drug rehab in your area, or how to apply for food stamps. Knowledge is power!
What to Package Your Homeless Help Kits In
Presentation doesn’t have to be key (I like to make kits pretty!), but you at least need to present them in something. Reusable bags are cheap and helpful, free boxes are readily available at grocery stores, old backpacks will serve dual purposes, and non-branded string backpacks.
Avoid plastic bags, as they may rip. But in a pinch, they’re better than nothing. Also avoid baskets; they’re beautiful, but impractical for carrying around.
Do you have any ideas for packaging homeless kits?
A Word of Caution on Homeless Kits, a Note from an Ex-Homeless Person, and Insight from Inside Homeless Shelters
I found a passage on a forum talking about homeless kits I had not considered myself. This comes from user Gonozo_ID, someone who used to work for homeless shelters, on Ask MetaFilter. Take a look:
I used to work in homeless services, so can say from my experience: Giving someone who panhandles at a stoplight something of value can be dangerous if they are seen receiving it by someone who wants that item. Homeless people who are victims of violence are often victimized by other homeless people who want what they have. It doesn’t have to be something of monetary value, just something recognizable and not immediately consumable. Also, if you pass the same way every day and your car becomes recognized, you’re going to either have a dangerous pedestrian situation in your hands, or someone may notice your car and break into it for more while you’re parked somewhere.
I understand that you want to help and that seeing these people makes you feel guilty and it is tough being a person who commutes to and from work every day in a warm car and then sleeps in your warm bed and seeing people who have less than you and feeling a responsibility towards them. Take that feeling and own it and then donate your money and your objects to your local homeless shelter, women’s shelter, or community group. They are equipped to disseminate food, objects, and money safely to the homeless without endangering them or yourself.
The above states all valid things to consider- but as for homeless on homeless violence, Kpele, an ex-homeless person has this to say:
I was homeless for a couple of years and the ‘buzzkill’ people are full of ****. May be all about location, but my clan of homeless were very good about sharing/bartering various sundries. Shelters are generally **** worth nothing when it’s not in their open hours, they’re miles away and you need a ******asprin. Or you had better be there in line at 8am sharp for your bowl of oatmeal and powdered milk- and no you don’t get seconds, and your *** better be out of there by nine. It’s the crazy shelter people who provide nothing but gruel and preach the ‘Nobody can help them better than us, don’t give them anything you’re not qualified to help on your own, we know what’s best,’ types that keep homeless people from using the services in the first place.
And finally, a word from Mareli who worked with homeless shelters:
I have had some loose affiliations with homeless shelters, and, I mean no disrespect, but I would take any advice given by shelter administration with a grain of salt. I’m sure some are wonderful, but many are very rigid and don’t truly help to end homelessness, or even ensure a warm place to sleep. The two that I was involved with both had an attitude that these people were homeless through fault, rather than luck, a position that I do not share.
How Do People Become Homeless?
You may be surprised to learn most homeless people begin to use drugs, and become addicted after they become homeless. Substance abuse becomes a way to escape their circumstances- just as non-homeless people. Don’t judge- here are five things you don’t know about drug addicts.
A surprising number of homeless people become so because of breakups, wherein one person is kicked out. I myself have seen this happen among close friends.
Reluctance to Ask for Help
Many people who become homeless don’t want to burden their family and friends with their circumstances. Many suffer in silence. Those without family or friend circles are in the same predicament- but perhaps not by choice.
Unstable Housing Causes Homelessness
Whether caused by foreclosure, lack of resources, or simply hard times and the loss of an apartment- housing is not always easy to secure.
Homeless People Don’t Want to Go to Homeless Shelters
A surprising number of homeless people I meet do not want to go to homeless shelters. Many say shelters are unsanitary, corrupt, abusive, and are rife with drugs and alcohol. Of this population, many prefer to rough it on the streets. In a riveting account of a woman who goes undercover in a homeless shelter and reveals the many perils of some “shelters.” This by no means defines all homeless shelters, but almost all details of this account match up to what my personal circle has confided in me about their experiences in shelters.
Read the story here.
How Many Homeless in America?
564,708 people, according to End Homelessness.
What Is the Main Cause of Death Among Homeless People?
Drug overdoses – Drug Abuse.Gov
Here’s an excellent resource on homeless statistics, and a slew of statistic and resources for the homeless from the National Coalition for the Homeless.
Five Finger Death Punch’s Tribute to Homeless Veterans
I’m going to stop here for today- we’ve gone over a lot of information, look for the second installment tomorrow where I’ll cover why homeless people drink and do drugs, common mental illnesses among the homeless, commonly abused street drugs used by the homeless, the myth that homeless people don’t want to work, rates of sexual assault among the homeless, and comprehensive statistics on homeless drug addicts.