Giving to the homeless
February 14, 2021 7:03 AM   Subscribe

In my midwest town there are a fair number of homeless. I see them sleeping under bridges and in parks even though it is well under freezing at night. Shelters have turned away my donation box because of Covid restrictions (cont'd)

But my closet tells me there is a need someone has for sweaters and blankets I'm not using. If I thoroughly launder the items would you think it would be irresponsible to just take the items to those I see sleeping outside? This could be done a different way I'm just not seeing the solution.
posted by The_imp_inimpossible to Human Relations (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
No, direct outreach is often the most helpful. Wear a mask and I don't see what the problem would be.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:12 AM on February 14, 2021 [11 favorites]

Shouldn't be a problem. Maybe bring some masks for them, too.

Side note, it's preferable to use "people first" language, instead of just calling people "homeless" to refer to them, try "people who are homeless" instead (preferred over "homeless people" too).
posted by erattacorrige at 7:29 AM on February 14, 2021 [12 favorites]

There's nothing wrong with your instinct to engage in direct outreach! I would suggest asking folks who are unhoused if the blankets and sweaters would be useful to them first, and mentioning that the items have been cleaned and cared for properly. Alternatively, there are often smaller, community-based mutual aid groups in cities who are regularly doing distributions, aid collection etc. I'd suggest looking around Facebook/google/instagram for smaller groups of people who are having supply drives. In my city, it's usually a group of friends or organizers who are engaging with the unhoused population directly and have a good idea of what is needed and where. Hope this helps!
posted by travelingthyme at 7:59 AM on February 14, 2021 [4 favorites]

I would check for existing mutual aid groups first as well, and if you can find any even in your area-ish check them out to figure out best practices that preserve dignity and don't create safety issues, but if you don't find one to join forces with definitely be the change you want to see in the world.

I recommend following the twitter/fb/insta accounts of a) food pantries in your area b) any orgs for housing rights c) UU churches and see who they follow and repost. You'll quickly get a pretty good picture of who's on the ground already and it'll help you keep informed even if you end up just going down to your local park or underpass and handing things out.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:54 AM on February 14, 2021 [5 favorites]

I have a friend who works in homeless ministry and yes this seems worthwhile and might be worth checking to see if there is a similar thing near you (this is Boston area). The things the people she works with need the most are: socks, underwear, wet-wipe type things, and sometimes shelf-stable foods or donations towards wherever they get food. Agree with Lyn, look for mutual aid groups sometimes there is a small one doing direct aid work, but otherwise yeah, talk to people, see what they could use.
posted by jessamyn at 10:00 AM on February 14, 2021

In Portland, ME, People often attach socks, mittens and other items, with a note, to fences or whatever, near the place where free meals are served and near the shelter. It's bitterly cold, your instincts are accurate.
posted by theora55 at 12:02 PM on February 14, 2021 [2 favorites]

You could also see if your city has a community fridge to leave things by.

The key thing when you're doing direct aid of this kind is to remember that you are surrendering control of which people take the resource and how they use it. Don't gatekeep for worthiness for donation, don't get mad if they trade the item away or whatever. There are upper bounds to this principle, but you're unlikely to hit them.
posted by praemunire at 12:24 PM on February 14, 2021

Another thing that people living on the streets enjoy is reading material. Paperback books and magazines are greatly appreciated.
posted by mareli at 2:13 PM on February 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

I live in an area that gets life-threateningly cold in winter. In the last few years, I have noticed that an individual or group often leaves mittens, scarves, and gloves around our downtown area with a little tag attached that reads something like, "I'm not lost, I'm yours if you need to keep warm!" You could do something like that, and maybe include useful contact information for outreach organizations in your area (not 211, if you're American - I have been homeless and 211 was so far beyond useless it was almost insulting, even in an extremely progressive city).

Other things you could keep in your car to hand to people as you encounter them include $5-10 gift cards to coffee shops or fast food restaurants, so that people who otherwise couldn't afford to pay for a sandwich or coffee can go sit inside for an hour or two to warm up or use the bathroom, without being hassled about being a "paying customer" or whatever the fuck. The men's crisis shelter near my work makes "to-go" bags for men who arrive too late in the day to get a bed. I think they have a couple bottles of water, a couple of granola bar type snacks, socks and underwear, toothbrush and travel toothpaste, deodorant, possibly a piece of less-fragile fruit, and some of those chemical hand warmer packets that heat up upon contact with air. Socks are always appreciated, and I bet a lightweight, throw-sized blanket would also be well received.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 7:12 PM on February 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks to everyone for your advice
posted by The_imp_inimpossible at 4:10 PM on February 16, 2021

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