Five Things You Should and Shouldn’t Do When Helping the Homeless

There are many reasons why you might want to make time in your busy life to help the homeless.
photo of man laying on sidewalk

There are many reasons why you might want to make time in your busy life to help the homeless. Over 40% of America’s homeless population are people with disabilities, which can make getting back on their feet even more difficult. Giving them a hand up can help them get back on their feet, and you’ll feel better after helping someone who deserves a place to live and a hot meal.

The questions is, what are the best ways to help the homeless? And are there things you shouldn’t do when trying to help?

You Should Donate More Than Just Warm Clothing

Donating items is one of the best things you can do to help the homeless. For most, that means donating warm clothing directly to the homeless population or donating coats, hats, and gloves to the local homeless shelter.

Warm clothing is important to homeless people, especially for those living in cold climates, but there are many other items that homeless people would appreciate. A few items you might not think about that would be much appreciated by the homeless include:

  • Toilet paper
  • Deodorant
  • Feminine hygiene products
  • Toothbrushes and toothpaste
  • Bandages
  • Diapers
  • Bicycles
  • Old cell phones

Consider calling your local homeless shelter and ask what they need. That way, you can ensure that whatever you drop off will be appreciated and it will get used.

Don’t Assume You Know What They Need

For some reason, most of us assume we know exactly what homeless people need because it seems obvious. Homeless people need clothing, food, and a place to sleep. Although these things are true, they aren’t necessarily true for every homeless person.

For example, you may want to approach a homeless person with food, but they may have just had a big breakfast at the homeless shelter, or you may be offering food that they don’t like or are allergic to.

Instead, ask what you can do to help. You may find that what they really need is to borrow a phone to make a phone call to a loved one, a few aspirin for a headache, or help getting to the nearest homeless shelter.

You Should Volunteer Your Time

One of the best ways to help the homeless is to volunteer your time. This is an especially good idea for those who feel uncomfortable approaching homeless people on the street.

There are many opportunities for you to volunteer your time. Feeding America is a favorite, as it helps distribute food to individuals and families in need. You can also volunteer your time at a local homeless shelter.

Have a useful skill? Consider donating your time to teaching that skill for free to local homeless people who are interested. You can also use that skill to help directly. For example, hairstylists can give free haircuts and doctors can give free exams.

Don’t Give Them Cash

One of the seemingly easiest ways to help a homeless person is to give them cash. Although they are sure to appreciate it, you may be doing more harm than good.

Unfortunately, there are multiple reasons why you shouldn’t give money to homeless people. They may spend it on drugs or alcohol if they are an addict. There’s the possibility that the person panhandling doesn’t need the money as much as they appear to need it, and it may not be as helpful as you think. For example, it may help them buy a sandwich now, but they’ll soon need to eat again.

If you don’t have a lot of time to give and donating your money really is the easiest way for you to help, give it to a trusted organization instead of handing it out directly to homeless members of your community.

Local organizations are a great first option because they will keep your money in your community, directly assisting the homeless people who live near you. However, there are many national organizations that donate items, provide outreach opportunities, offer shelter, and more to homeless people all across the country. Do your research to find a trusted organization that is doing things to help the homeless that you want to support.

Squeezing in a little time in your busy life to help the homeless can make you feel good. Just make sure what you’re doing is actually helping! With the tips on this list, you’ll know what you should and shouldn’t do to make sure the homeless people in your community get the support they really need.

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