Many people ask us how they can help members of the local homeless population. They want to help other homeless kids and teens but don’t know what items are needed. At Family Resources, we keep a list of items available that we collect for our hygiene kits. They contain standard items like toothpaste, deodorant, and cleaning wipes. However, there are some uncommon items that the homeless need that you might not realize.
Check out these seven items to help the homeless that many people forget about and consider donating a few to your local shelter today.
Socks and Other Footcare Items
In 2017, a group of formerly homeless individuals shared what helped them the most in a Reddit thread. The most common items were socks and other foot care items. These include things like antifungal cream and bandages.
Many homeless individuals stand or walk throughout the day. Their feet hurt and they wear through socks quickly. Many homeless people wear old shoes, ill-fitting shoes, or no shoes at all, leaving their feet vulnerable and in pain. On top of that, wet socks or thin socks feel miserable when it is cold or raining. Having a few different pairs of socks can make a world of difference.
How to help: Stop by the sock aisle whenever you are at Target or Walmart. Add a six-pack of socks to your cart and donate the packs at the end of each month or every other month.
Feminine Hygiene Products
Pads, tampons, and panty liners are expensive. These items can cost up to $10 per box and some women use multiple boxes each month. If you are hungry or homeless, that $10 can feel like an impossible number. As a result, many women use strips of cloth or wadded up toilet paper when they get their periods. This is unhygienic and inhumane.
How to help: Look for buy-one, get-one sales on hygiene products when you go shopping. If your favorite brand is on sale, pick up a box for yourself and one to donate. Also, look for sales to buy personal hygiene items in bulk for local shelters and community centers to hand out.
Not all homeless individuals are seen. They “crash with friends” or sleep in their cars at night. However, many homeless people spend several hours outside each day and don’t have access to shelter. In Florida, it gets hot. These hours in the sun add up and can leave people sunburned and blistered. In the long run, this sun exposure can lead to cancer, proving that the effects of homelessness extend long after an individual finds shelter.
How to help: Pick up travel-sized tubes of sunscreen with high SPF levels. You can either donate these to your local shelter or keep them on hand to pass out when you meet someone who needs it. Travel-sized bug repellent and rain ponchos are also useful.
If you do want to hand out food items to the homeless or are in a position to buy a homeless person a meal, try to focus on soft food items. Many people do not have access to a toothbrush and toothpaste (much less regular dental care) and cannot chew hard foods. While picking up a calorie-heavy, protein-packed granola bar might seem thoughtful, it can actually be painful.
How to help: Look for soft foods (like Nutri-grain bars) that homeless individuals can eat. If you are buying a meal, ask about any dietary limits or preferences. The last thing you want is to buy a jar of peanut butter for someone who has a peanut allergy. Also, fresh water is always needed and often welcomed on a hot day.
Many people become homeless because they run away to escape abuse. That abuse isn’t always limited to people. According to the Humane Society of the United States, 71% of domestic violence victims said their abuser also targeted their pets. The problem is that many shelters do not accept pets and people are not willing to part with their animals. As a result, they either stay in the abusive relationship for the animal or live on the streets with it.
We in St. Petersburg are lucky. CASA (Community Action Stops Abuse) opened a kennel last year to welcome abuse victims and give their pets a place to stay. However, many people still live on the streets with their pets.
How to help: Carry pet food in baggies in your car. You can hand them out to pets in need.
Drug Store Gift Cards
If you aren’t sure what people in your local community need, pick up a few drug store gift cards. These cards are wonderful because stores like CVS and Walgreens have food, medication, hygiene products, and other necessities.
While many homeless people will use the gift cards to get food, others need extra help to get hygiene items to prepare for a job interview or so they can go to school without getting bullied.
How to help: Buy multiple gift cards in small increments and donate them to your local shelter or community center. If you know of organizations that feed the homeless, you can donate these cards to them as well.
A Moment of Humanity
Small gestures can make a big difference when talking to someone who is homeless. Many people report feeling subhuman because of the treatment they receive each day while on the streets. Many people ignore homeless residents, pretend not to see them, or are even openly hostile. One of the best things you can do to help someone is to treat them like a human – the same way you would want to be treated in their shoes.
How to help: Acknowledge the homeless in your area. Smile at them and be polite. Even if you are unable to help them, treating homeless people with compassion and respect can make a difference in their day.
You don’t have to give a lot of your time or money to support the local LGBTQ homeless population and help runaway kids and teens in Pinellas County. Pick up a few of these items and donate them to Family Resources today, or check out some of the items that we need the most on our Amazon wishlist.
In the meantime, learn how our Street Safe Outreach Team connects with homeless youth.
We immensely appreciate your help and know the homeless residents of Pinellas County do as well.