Guide: 16 Ideas for How To Help Homeless People

This article is presented in partnership with Bombas

It sounds simple but putting on comfortable clothing every day is a powerful thing. So Bombas created the most comfortable socks they could imagine, and for every clothing item purchased, an item is donated to those experiencing homelessness. 

Get 20% off with Bombas!

Vectors of a shower head, washing machine, bandage, and a house
This article is presented in partnership with Bombas

Poverty and homelessness are not personal or moral failures on the part of those experiencing homelessness — but rather a failure of our systems and government.

According to the National Library of Medicine, homelessness first became a national issue in the United States during the 1870s, mainly facilitated by the national railroad system, urbanization, and industrialization. 

However, the “modern” era of homelessness most Americans are now familiar with began in the early 1980s, during the Reagan Administration. 

Factors that impacted this shift include the gentrification of cities, high unemployment rates, the emergence of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, inadequate affordable housing, and deep budget cuts to federal housing agencies and social services, in what was, at the time, the country’s worst recession since the Great Depression. 

All of these things are systemic issues that require robust public health, housing, and social safety nets from those at the top to confront. And it can be done!

All around the world, countries have created policies that ensure nobody has to live on the streets. From Finland’s “Housing First” approach, to creative affordable housing projects giving us hope across the U.S, we have proof that changing policies helps end homelessness.

It’s important that we play a role in supporting people experiencing homelessness today — but it’s also important that we work toward systemic change that ensures nobody has to fall through the cracks in the future. 

Here are some ways you can make a difference when it comes to making safe, affordable housing a reality for all.

By the way, some of the links in this article are affiliate links, which means if you make a purchase after clicking a link, we may earn a commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you!

How To Make a Difference for People Experiencing Homelessness 

Learn.

One of the best ways to help unhoused folks is to get a better understanding of their lived experiences, as well as the systems that have led to their circumstances.

Whether that’s listening to podcasts about homelessness, reading good news about housing, visiting Atlanta’s Museum of Homelessness, or reading books about the housing crisis (in America and beyond), you will be better equipped to help when you are better educated.

Here are a few quick learning recommendations for your journey into housing advocacy:

Donate to local nonprofits.

Every community has its helpers, and when it comes to homelessness, there are a wide range of services that need more financial support to continue providing vital resources to those in need.

First, we’d recommend checking out the National Low Income Housing Coalition to learn more about housing needs by state — and to find local nonprofits to support.

You can also search online to find area organizations like:

  • Homeless shelters
  • Food pantries
  • Shower services
  • Laundry services
  • Medical support
  • Employment programs
  • Affordable housing programs
  • Transitional housing programs
  • Street medics
  • Food distribution groups
  • Mutual aid networks

Donate to national nonprofits.

Although your donations often make the most impact in your own communities, homelessness is a nationwide (and global) issue that needs major attention from every direction.

Luckily, there are countless nonprofits that are dedicated to eradicating homelessness that you can support.

Donate to global nonprofits.

While rates of homelessness are high in the United States, there are many other countries struggling with homelessness, too. Here are a few organizations you can support as they work to end homelessness and displacement around the globe:

Support LGBTQ+ youth.

One demographic that is consistently at risk of homelessness is LGBTQ+ youth — especially trans youth of color.

Whether you financially support organizations like the National Network for Youth, True Colors United, or The Trevor Project, or you simply own the role of a loud, proud, accepting and affirming adult in the lives of LGBTQ+ young people, you are doing your part to keep youth safe, housed, and loved.

Volunteer beyond the holidays.

Go beyond the cliché of doing a shift at the soup kitchen by calling a nonprofit or shelter in your community and asking how you can help year-round. Yes, making a real-life phone call isn’t always fun — but the person on the other end of the line will be grateful for your support.

They may ask you to join group volunteer activities where you’ll interface with the communities they serve — or they may ask you to play a behind-the-scenes role.

If you have unique talents for marketing, communications, organizing, or using technology, offer up your assistance with those services. You may be able to make a uniquely meaningful contribution that way!

Have conversations with unhoused community members. 

Bill Swartz (@rideshareredemption on TikTok), who was formerly unhoused, shared with his online community that a simple, free way to help a homeless community member is by sitting with them in a safe space and having a conversation about their story. 

This, Swartz comments, allows people to simply feel “normal” and like they have a real community. 

Help provide laundry services.

Offering someone experiencing homelessness access to laundry facilities can reduce experiences of stigma and aid in the transition out of homelessness, increasing the likelihood of job placement. 

Consider driving someone to a laundromat or donating to organizations that are actively providing these services across the country, such as Laundry Love, The Laundry Track LA, and Austin’s Mission Accomplished Laundry Angels program. 

Create and distribute literature about local community resources.

Create and print out a community resource sheet that includes the contact information of nearby shelters or housing organizations. Hand them out to anyone you cross paths with who may need them. 

You can even take it a step further by offering to call a specific organization for them, acting as a liaison to help people access the resources they need.

Create and give care packages.

Providing essential care kits is a way to help provide immediate assistance to strangers you encounter in your day-to-day life. These care kits often include essential items like toiletries, nutritious food, first aid supplies, clean socks and clothing, and more.

Not sure what to put in your care package? We’ve created an article that lays out everything you need.

→ Check out this full guide on how to create a homeless care kit

Donate products to shelters.

You can also collect necessities for shelters in your area (this is a great idea if you’re shopping in bulk or with a team of volunteers from your workplace or organization!) 

Dr. Robin Dickinson (who prefers to go by Dr. Robin) is a family physician who founded the first and only free clinic in Englewood, Colorado, which primarily serves people who are experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity. 

“If we were preparing gifts for a shelter, we’d ask the shelter specifically what’s needed because they typically know what their clients are most lacking,” Dr. Robin said. “While shelters will often try to make it fun by encouraging people to put together a gift bag, I like to ask what it is that people really need but isn’t being provided by donations currently.”

She continued to outline what many shelters might be looking for.

“That might be diapers, detergent, pads, tampons, etc. Those kinds of needs also make for good projects for neighborhoods, schools, and churches,” she added. “I’ve known a teen girl who collected [menstrual] hygiene supplies from the girls [sports] teams at her school and a mom who collected diapers at her church.”

Buy from good companies.

We already know that making ethical shopping choices is a great way to turn purchases you’d already be making into an act of good.

When it comes to helping those experiencing homelessness, there are a number of brands you can shop that provide essentials to unhoused communities.

  • Bombas: Donates essential clothing items with every purchase
  • Sackcloth & Ashes: Donates a blanket to a homeless shelter with every blanket you purchase
  • Leesa: Donates one mattress to a family in need for every 10 sold
  • Twice As Warm: Donates a winter clothing item for every one sold
  • The Company Store: Donates a comforter to a homeless child for every one sold

Support organizations and businesses that employ people experiencing homelessness.

While unhoused folks should have the same kind of opportunity and access to well-paying and enriching jobs as everyone else, they often do not.

Besides the stigma that comes with experiencing homelessness, it is also hard to find work — or be deemed “employable” without essentials like shelter, hygiene, and access to technology. These are a few companies and organizations that not only hire unhoused folks but make them a core priority in their work.

  • Street Roots: This Portland-based nonprofit media organization publishes a weekly social justice newspaper that is sold by people experiencing homelessness and poverty to earn an income. Besides selling newspapers, folks are also paid to do additional work, including public health outreach, surveys, and trainings.
  • Empowerment Plan: This innovative organization produces a durable coat that transforms into a sleeping bag. Its manufacturers are unhoused folks who are given employment opportunities, while giving back with this additional layer of safety. 
  • Well House: Based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Well House has a simple model: Purchase vacant, boarded-up houses, bring them back to life by hiring unhoused community members to renovate them, and then move in neighbors who need housing the most. Well House now owns 16 houses and has helped over 5,000 people find work and transitional housing since 2013.
  • Greyston Bakery: This New York bakery makes tasty brownies and blondies by hiring bakers through an Open Hiring policy, which provides meaningful employment to folks with barriers to hiring (like being incarcerated or unhoused). This means no resumes or background checks! “We don’t hire people to bake brownies,” the company’s website reads. “We bake brownies to hire people.”

Speak out against hostile architecture.

Hostile architecture, or anti-homeless architecture, is an urban design concept that purposely guides or restricts behavior. This is especially impactful for people who commonly rely on public architecture like benches, sidewalks, or bus stops, like youth, older community members, disabled folks, or unhoused individuals. 

You have likely seen hostile architecture at play with bench dividers that restrict people from lying down; studs, bricks, or rocks needlessly cemented to curbs or ledges designed to keep people from sitting; or even shops installing sprinklers or alarms under awnings to keep people from gathering beneath them.

These design elements have one purpose: cruelty. They keep folks from resting, finding shade, or even just existing in their cities. 

Speak out in city council or planning meetings, encourage the use of accessible design, and help people using these public spaces by sharing comfortable items like blankets, pillows, or camping chairs. 

Reject NIMBYism — and become a YIMBY instead.

For decades, affluent homeowners opposing development —and ultimately leading to housing segregation in communities across the country — have been referred to as NIMBYs (an acronym for “Not In My Backyard”). 

Although the NIMBY attitude began from a desire to keep property values up, it has since contributed to the housing crisis that keeps low-income and minority families from high-quality housing, schools, jobs, and opportunities. 

Flip the coin, however, and you’ll find a growing movement of YIMBYs (the “Yes In My Backyard” camp), who welcome inclusive, intentional neighborhood development to provide more housing nationwide.

Though YIMBY communities have coalitions in cities across the U.S., YIMBY Action is its own umbrella nonprofit organization with a vision to make abundant, affordable housing a reality for all.

Help create policy change.

As we explored earlier, housing-first policy change really does make a difference in ending homelessness. 

The good news? Attempts to implement this approach have become more and more popular across the country, including in major cities like Houston.

The bad news? These approaches are under attack and often lack funding to make them a success. 

You can step in by calling your elected officials and advocating for the  investment in humane and helpful solutions to the housing crisis. 

Even if you don’t have all the answers, you can always vote with your unhoused neighbors (and other marginalized people) in mind, prioritizing candidates that present strong solutions, work to make essential necessities more affordable, and understand the failures (and successes!) of a very complex system.

Article Details

September 8, 2023 9:35 AM
A 3D-printed recyclable house

Tour the eco house of the future: Affordable, 3D-printed, and fully recyclable

These first-of-their-kind homes could solve the global housing crisis — and upend the construction industry through sustainability.
A photo collage of hands holding a plant in the soil, a building, a sign in support of LGBTQIA+ people and equal access to IVF, a construction site, and a sea lion underwater

Good News This Week: June 8, 2024 - Parks, Pride, & the Olympics

Your weekly roundup of the best good news worth celebrating...
No items found.

Want to stay up-to-date on positive news?

The best email in your inbox.
Filled with the day’s best good news.