What Do Homeless People Need

Sure, I did write about this recently, but the subject is important, and more needs to be said about it, and often.

Homeless people have many needs, but most importantly, they need a true friend. By true friend I mean someone who will stick by them no matter what. The stress of becoming homeless, and the stress of being homeless can cause a person to do some odd or extreme things, which will cause most people to recoil. But a true friend would not abandon a person when they become homeless.

Being a homeless person’s friend is not always an easy thing to be. You have to be smart about it. A homeless person may ask you to do things that you are not comfortable with. If that is the case, then don’t do them. But you don’t have to entirely reject your homeless friend because you refuse do to certain things for him/her. A homeless person who is also an alcoholic may ask you to buy him/her a bottle of wine. You might not think that a good idea, and you’d probably be right about that. So don’t do it. And that may also hold true for other things a homeless friend may ask of you, like cash, or other things that may end up enabling their addiction, or other problems.

Still, a friend who is supportive and encouraging is the best thing a homeless person can have, and will be the most effective in helping the homeless person get out of their homeless situation.

Other than a friend there are some things homeless people need or could certainly use while in their homeless situation.

  • Clean clothes that are in good condition. Not only is it good for the homeless person’s self esteem, it helps the homeless person to socialize in the realm of the non-homeless, if they at least don’t look like a homeless person. Dirty, ratty clothes are one of the biggest giveaways that a person is homeless. And so many people reject those who even look homeless.
  • A place to store their valuables and other things. The homeless environment is such that it is very easy for a homeless person to lose his valuables, or for his valuables to be stolen from him. Having a safe place to store his things helps him to keep his valuables, and keep all his possessions in good order. Lockers at homeless shelters are often available but are relatively expensive for a homeless person to rent. Perhaps you could make arrangements with a shelter to pay for the monthly locker rental of a homeless person.
  • Or I have known that some people allow a homeless friend to keep things at their house, or in a storage shed in their back yard. Of course I would only recommend this if you know the homeless person really well. Perhaps you know their family, or you knew them before they became homeless.
  • Toiletries for keeping clean and presentable. This would include everything from soap and shampoo to razors and shaving cream – combs, brushes, nail clippers or files, make up, deodorant, etc., etc.
  • A Sturdy Back Pack. Of the less expensive brands, Jansport, has proven itself over and over to handle the riggers or homeless life better than the others. I know this from personal experience as well as hearing from other homeless people. When looking for a backpack we always look for a Jansport first. (And I feel I must tell you that this is my unsolicited endorsement. I have not been approached by any backpack manufacturer, or other business interest for my review of items.)
  • Seasonally appropriate attire and accessories. Coats in winter, shorts in summer. And certainly, clothing items and accessories such as mittens and flip flops will be different in Fargo than in San Diego.
  • Blankets and sleeping pads. The reason that you see homeless people carrying around cardboard is that the cardboard provides a layer of protection between them and the cold concrete they often sleep on. But cardboard is unwieldy and unattractive. A roll up sleeping pad, such as used for Yoga, would help considerably. Blankets are important too, even in warm weather a person should stay covered when they sleep. It is necessary for homeless people to remain unseen when they sleep, so although those shiny aluminum emergency blankets are effective at keeping a person warm and are relatively inexpensive, homeless people I know will not use them. Still, it may be different for homeless people in your area. Ask around to be certain.
  • Food and a warm place. Cards, or gift certificates to fast food restaurants and cafes allow a homeless person to get decent food and drink, and allow them to get inside somewhere out of the elements. Subway food is healthier than McDonalds, but Subway doesn’t sell coffee, at least not around here.
  • Toilets and restroom facilities. Not many businesses allow the homeless to use their restroom facilities, and few cities offer public restrooms anymore. Still, homeless people need to go somewhere, especially late at night or after business hours. If they go where they are not supposed to, they may get a ticket, or get sent to jail. Talk to your local homeless shelter about allowing their facilities to be open 24 hours a day, or have your city install public restrooms or portajohns in public areas that homeless people frequent.
  • Opportunities to make money and reconnect with society. Employment is the key to reentering society. But employment can be extremely difficult to obtain for homeless people. Few people will openly hire homeless people, so homeless people have to lie to get jobs. Also, homeless people may be feeling depressed or unworthy of employment and so will be reluctant to go looking for permanent full time employment. The thing is, temporary work pays very little, and does not offer dependable employment that a person can use to get out of homelessness. Selling homeless newspapers is often the best solution to getting a homeless person working and making their own money. Being homeless actually qualifies a person to sell homeless newspapers, so the homeless person does not have to lie to get the job. The homeless person is allowed to set their own hours, and can work in an area of town that is most convenient for them, since they are in essence working for themselves. They are paid in cash for the papers they sell, so they don’t need a bank account for cashing a paycheck. And they have immediate access to the money they have earned too. They immediately see the reward for their labor, and that helps them to build their feeling of self worth. If you would like information on how to start a homeless newspaper in your city, contact the North American Street Newspaper Association.
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About Kevin Barbieux

I have been diagnosed as being chronically homeless. I write about my experiences and opinions of being homeless

29 comments

  1. if you really want to help a homeless person…let him at least sleep in your yard and offer him a bit to eat now and then. most homeless are rather sufficient in survival but knowing that someone cares enough to help them is huge for their esteem. it is very hard for homeless to find a decent place to sleep without the cops being called or finding him. the society that put him in this place, frowns on his situation…so if you really want to help then do that, or get him enough money for a night in a local motel. the soaps and such are free to him and the night in a real bed with some tv will leave him as refreshed he will be ready to find that job.

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  2. I loved reading this piece! Well written! 🙂

    jason
    Student pods

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  3. Hi I was wondering if I could have some advice. I prepared a care package for a homeless guy that I drive past every day on my way to work. It contained a blanket, beanie, jumpers, socks, pillow, towel, toiletries and some canned food (no need for an opener). However when I went up to the homeless guy he told me to go away and that he did not want anything & that he had everything he needed. He said I'm not poor give it to someone else. I was going to just leave it there for him but he kept saying don't leave it! So I didn't leave it for him. I'm thinking that perhaps he is too proud or maybe he is untrusting I don't know. Is this a usual response from a homeless person or perhaps I am doing something wrong. Can you give any advice as how to approach a homeless person without offending them and letting them know that I'm doing it because I care?

    Thanks for your help 🙂

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  4. Become a real life super hero.

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  5. Thanks for sharing, I actually found this article because I was looking for some things to put in care packages. Those are some really good ideas. 🙂

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  6. My husband and I, without trying, have been taking displaced and homeless people into our home for years, at least 2 to 3 times a year. We help them acquire jobs, a home, stability and save money. Usually this takes about 3 to 5 months, but we have had a case or 2 that took a year or longer. Not because of problems, but merely because our “friends” started a training course of some kind, like truck driving, and needed a place to call home during training. We provided a mailing address for bills, taxes and proof of residence. We always welcome those in need with open doors….a warm bed, good food and a family environment. We are in no way rich, we can barely make our own bills at some times, but we are always willing to help out those who need help. There have been a few “friends” who left our home, on their own terms, with out following thru with the goals that are needed to become stable. We only ask our “friends” that they work, save 3/4 of their pay each week, (we provide a savings) and use their money wisely to retain necessities they will need once a home is acquired. We usually furnish most of the furniture and kitchen ware for them. While in our home, all necessities, such as toiletries, food laundry needs and the like are furnished by us, because, after all, we need them too.

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  7. I just did an event where we fed about 180 individual homeless/families in need. It was an all day event covering all meals, providing activities for all ages and a care package(backpack-heavy duty large) filled with sleeping bag, socks, gloves, hats, scarves, grocery gift card, wipes, toothbrush, hair brush, underwear. It was a collaboration of many companies, and individuals.

    Also: I currently have a person we are helping who is a friend of my husbands. He stayed at our house as a guest a few days before I realized his situation. I told my husband he could not stay, because we have two young children (4 and 6) who we have to think about first. While I do not allow him to stay here, I am willing to provide him with aide in other ways, and I know he understands. If it were just me and my husband we would let him stay indefinitely and give him more assistance. He has asked us for a tent, and I am taking it to him tonight. I have also put a box for him to go through of items he may need or want: large duffel, towels(small-limited space), thermal socks, winter hat, fleece and winter jackets lined with fleece, gloves, jars of Peanut Butter with spoon, Zip lock baggies, tooth paste/tooth brush, scarf, large box of matches, used shoes to choose from in decent condition and a $15 gift card for the grocery store near where he is camping out. The biggest issue for him is the fact that he has to transport all his “things” with him, so he has to have items that are compact/portable/light. It just started snowing here in our area, so I am mostly concerned with his warmth. He has been earning money on the streets by drumming so is able to maintain a cell phone which makes it good to keep in touch with him and we are able to find him easily. (We are in the City). He has no family in this area, but we are willing to get him a megabus ticket if he needs to go home (1 state away).
    Those are some of the tips and issues in addition (or redundantly noted) to what was mentioned above.
    I know health and dental care is of great need, but the individual needs to take responsibility for there care also, and there are programs out there for them to seek assistance by the state, shelters, and other programs unique to each area. While it is not easy to find those programs, the individual needs to make some effort on their own. Love, Peace, Health, Safety, Happiness to all of you during this holiday season (2012).

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  8. thank you for the advice in the article above, all your writing and help me open my mind wider

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  9. Having been homeless myself and knowing how shelters operate I would strongly suggest you find out how your donation will be used. Some shelters are truthful and will give donated clothing, blanket and toiletries to the homeless, other shelters will tell you they will and send your donation to their thrift store to be sold or employees have the first pick on what they want. It is a widespread misconception that shelter operators know what is best for the homeless, many will tell you don’t give the money to the homeless, they will just buy drugs or alcohol. That statement makes ALL homeless people addicts and is just not true. In many cases it’s a self-serving rhetoric to make sure money donations go to the shelters and not the homeless.

    Hang out in front of a local shelter and talk to people; they’ll let you know where there is a good spot to start. Also, make sure you go in groups to these locations, not to scare you, but all it takes is one rowdy patron to maybe scare you off.

    I love the idea to give to the homeless directly, it brings a feeling of worth to those who spend all day alone and unnoticed.

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  10. Obviously he does understand. He was homeless. Were you?

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  11. I found your blog to be very informative. My husband and I have been going through a wake up call since December 2011. I could not understand how people got into the shape they were in. Yes, call me prideful and judgmental. God has really opened up my eyes these last seven months. I have such a greater understanding of how this happens. My husband and I have found out when you have money people want something to do with you and when you are broke they avoid you. It is the most awful feeling of being hopeless. I have learned alot of this situation we have been in. I now want to help people that go through this, since I now have first hand experience in it. I know without a doubt God will use this to better his kingdom. Here is my question for you. I want to get things together and give out to people.I do not want to give to the shelters but to the people themselves. do you have any suggestions on where I need to start?

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  12. Great info! Some other things that family members and friends can help those “homeless” sleeping in cars are:

    Gym memberships
    Laundry cards/quarters
    Good car jumper cables
    Prepaid phone cards
    Towels/Washclothes/small tubs for sponge baths
    Gas cards

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  13. Regarding homeless employment, have you read about homeless wifi hotspot that they just started at Austin? It's all over the news now.

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  14. You should read my recent post concerning StoryCorps. Homeless people need non-homeless friends, and friends do listen to each other's stories. But, the stories that most homeless people tell should be taken with a grain of salt.

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  15. Hello, I would like some advice….I am a social work student(bachelor's)currently in the process of doing a community advocacy project. I have chose to focus on the homeless population and am planning to have a community picnic. The invitation is for both homeless and non-homeless for the purpose of bringing both communitites together and learn a deeper understanding of each others lives…I would really love to have some currently homeless people tell everyone present at the picnic their story(how, when, and why they're homeless). I need suggestions as to how to approach someone ask ask them to consider speaking at the picnic. I am trying to avoid offending anyone or causing emotional stress for anyone. Please help me, for I know their stories make all the difference.

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  16. im a very young person i had been doing some research lately becuase the church i go to gave me 20 dollars to help homless people. my step dad doubled the amount of money. And with doing so i have descided to go out and help a 39-44 year old man on my street. and you site has helped me out a lot.

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  17. I am really grateful for this information. Thank you.

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  18. Anonymous

    Last year a group of friends collected 263 sleeping bags and gave them to the homeless in our city. We want to do more. You blog was most helpful in adding things. I was wondering about other food items they could keep with them tat would be street friendly to make? please if you can think of somethings e-mail me at salix9471@yahoo.com

    Thanks again for your insight and candor.

    Deb

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  19. Anonymous

    wonderful page really helped! ❤ 🙂

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  20. I guess what homeless people need the most is whatever is most pressing for the individual homeless person. There are no “adequate” for any aliment suffered by homeless people. The most overlooked and least offered service is dental care. Teeth are very hard to take care of while homeless. That and people with mental health issues are not always thinking about health of their teeth. Cleanings are nice, but fillings, root canals, dentures are what's really needed. Being able to adequately chew food is important to a body's overall health, and physical health has a major affect on mental health. Foot issues are also very important. Homeless people spend and inordinate amount of time walking on concrete, usually while also carrying heavy backpacks. Feet wear out fast, especially when wearing hand-me-down shoes, or ill fitting shoes. Also, it's hard to keep feet clean and so athletes foot is a big issue for the homeless. Homeless people need a steady supply of clean socks and anti fungal medicine.

    The list goes on and on.

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  21. Anonymous

    I am a public health nurse working in a team specifically developed to help with the health needs of the homeless. What health needs do the homeless need assistance with the most?

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  22. There's an old homeless guy in my neighborhood that I see everyday with his carts of stuffs. I remember giving money to him on several occasions but his condition is still the same. He has gotten so old and sickly looking and I feel so bad every time I pass by him. I really wanted to help him but I just don't know how to do it.

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  23. Nice post…extremely helpful and empathetic…
    Being homeless is a pain if we imagine ourselves being one…may god bless everyone…and capable people should contribute for uplifting the homeless and jobless people who are really willing to work hard and make something of themselves…

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  24. My family has been fortunate to live ok. Not Grand but ok. In the Houston area we see quite a bit of homeless people of all ages. I mean all ages.

    Both kids are grown now and we were able to buy an older motorhome to see a bit of the country.

    We have seen several people living in travel trailers and very old motorhomes just about everywhere we have gone.

    Some really seem to be doing ok, and enjoy having very low expenses. Many are living off of SS. Not much mind you, but can make a deal with lots of RV parks to cheaper rates.

    The ones I have talked to agree that homeless is a place they really do not want to be.

    The latest couple I talked to have been without work since 2009 living in a 26ft travel trailer going from town to town looking for work. Says he can't find work.
    Mark

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  25. Hello, I just recently stumbled across your blog while searching for stuff to put in care packages for the homeless that are around my area. I thought I would run some stuff by you since you seem knowledgeable about what is needed. I read the post above already but here is my list of things that I might use to see if I can create these care packages. let me know at mzzmisty@ gmail.com

    toothpaste,toothbrush,shampoo,conditioner,hair brush,razor,shaving cream,deodorant,bug spray,washcloths,soap,fem hygiene,nail clippers,instant coffee,floss,nuts,reusable coffee cup,wet wipes,socks,gloves,wool cap,hand warmers,crackers,tissues,nutrigrain bars, mints or gum,chapstick,aspirin,pillar candle (i've heard some people use these for heat if they have a tent?) lighter,thermals,cough drops,notes on resources,granola bars,sunblock,poncho/umbrella, fast food gift cert,bus pass,fruit cups,flashlights,batteries,can opener,reusable utensils/plate,rolling papers,lotion,antibiotic spray,baby powder,band aids,book, teabags,sugar packets,creamer packets,hard candy,sanitizer,crossword puzzles,reusable shopping bag,scarf,stamped envelopes with paper/pen,water

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  26. It's already been said, but thank you for writing this. I'll definitely keep this in mind.

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  27. exomystics

    The essence is “compassion” for dispossessed individuals. They need both physical and mental comfort. Lacking any of those would cause imbalance and may result in unpleasant consequences.

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  28. good idea to say that not all homeless people are raggedy old men and alcoholics. young men and women are losing their jobs and homes every day in America.

    also. that bottle of wine may be their only comfort in a dire situation. if you don't understand that then you don't know what it's like to really suffer.

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  29. Thank you for writing this. My buddy is recently homeless and I have no idea what to do for him.

    This was great to read because the government web sites aren't really much help.

    I hope your blog helps give direction to a lot of people during challenging times.

    ed

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