Resource card to give w/ money to people asking for money: good idea?
January 26, 2023 8:39 PM   Subscribe

I want to give something more than just money, usually $5, to people when I get asked for it in public, and an idea I'm having would be a business card/index card/booklet with a compilation of resources they might try to access. I'm thinking like a list of phone numbers/contact info and addresses/directions for soup kitchens, distribution points, legal aid, etc. I'm having trouble deciding what ought to go on it though, because people's circumstances are so different I wouldn't know if what I'm putting in would be useful or irrelevant.

It's also a big city and that's another way where things could be less relevant, if they don't even stay near those places. And I feel like I might be missing something, like is this even a good idea or is it disrespectful and unhelpful and I really would help the most by giving more money. I figure that most people are just gonna throw out the card thinking I'm proselytizing or something, but it might make a difference for some. For context, I live in Brooklyn, NY and don't commute, so I've only kept running into a couple people local to the area and not any on the train. Thoughts and suggestions please!
posted by coolname to Society & Culture (25 answers total)
Have you consulted with the local houseless advocates in the area regarding this idea? It might be better as a starting point if you were able to help organize and design something together with existing folks who are already doing direct services.

There also is a chance that houseless folks probably want something specific and already know some resources from previous outreach efforts, so if you want to do that, you would actually have to talk to them regarding if a resource card would be useful and what would be on it. (I'm a designer who does community-based and participatory design work, so this is something I teach in my classes and workshops.)
posted by yueliang at 8:50 PM on January 26 [18 favorites]

iirc, a local (wonderful) butcher at the edge of the DTES sold tokens that people could buy for ($2.50 CAD?) to give instead of cash. Each token redeemed = 1 really decent sandwich.

('Save O Meats')
posted by porpoise at 8:54 PM on January 26 [6 favorites]

(To be clear, I think this is a reasonable question and a good one to ask! I am just suggesting what I would probably recommend as next steps so you aren't left struggling while trying to do something like this.)
posted by yueliang at 8:55 PM on January 26 [2 favorites]

Sincere question: What makes you think they don't already have this information? I work in public social services and this information is generally available at every single location that houseless people might be, from what I've seen. I'm not in your area, so it may be different, but "lack of information" rarely seems to be the problem here. "Lack of enough resources that can serve everyone without major gatekeeping" is more the issue.
posted by lapis at 9:54 PM on January 26 [58 favorites]

this is a kind thought but you don’t have to reinvent the wheel; resources like this undoubtedly already exist. you could research agencies serving houseless folks in the area, they may have booklets/flyers you can offer people. I’d ask if they’re interested in some resources/information before offering, and only give it if they say yes.
posted by adastra at 10:18 PM on January 26 [10 favorites]

The rose city resource guide has loads of resources, but are missing a transportation section. Having volunteered at several, I can tell you that homeless people are on a small budget and community bike shops are an invaluable resource (as are free/reduced transit passes).

This is the most comprehensive list of community bike orgs that I know of. If yours isn't on there, it's a wiki. There might still be one or several community bike shops in your area, and you can add them to the wiki!
posted by aniola at 10:24 PM on January 26 [2 favorites]

Do the folks you see panhandling in your neighborhood know about local soup kitchens and shelters and free clinics and needle exchanges and city homeless services? Yes. Yes they do. A more useful angle might be offer them cards with resources that they could give out to newbies on the street that they encounter? But before you go to the trouble, ask them if this is needed. There may already be an organized published guide.
posted by desuetude at 11:09 PM on January 26 [2 favorites]

i feel like people already know about resources, and they know about how they actually work and how useful they are in much more granular detail via word of mouth than an outsider or even professional assembling a list of resources would. where says they're open but they're often not, who is a pita to deal with, etc. i think giving money is great honestly as it's most flexible.
posted by mosswinter at 2:40 AM on January 27 [7 favorites]

It’s a kind impulse, but I also suspect that the people you’re encountering most likely either already know this information, or if they’re newly unhoused, are better off getting it from other people with actual experience with those resources who will know which ones to steer people toward or away from.

But the people who will know best what help they need are the people you’re meeting and trying to help. (Also, if you go ahead with the card idea, they’ll be best positioned to make it useful - what resources do folks in their position usually *not* know about, or what tips might be helpful in your area specifically?) Starting to chat with them, if they’re open to it, and getting to know their lives and what resources they could actually use, would probably be the best option here if it’s something you can do.
posted by Stacey at 4:14 AM on January 27 [1 favorite]

An amazing community organizer in my city puts together packages for unhoused people if you want some other ideas.
posted by stray at 4:34 AM on January 27

Nthing the notion that "many people probably already know this". Giving them the phone numbers for outreach centers or soup kitchens or shelters probably wouldn't help if:

* They're on a limited diet that the soup kitchens can't cater to
* They have a dog and none of the local shelters will let them bring their dog with them
* The legal aid offices are all booked solid for the next 3 months
* All the paperwork they would need to fill out for social services requires them to use a computer, and, well, they don't have one
* They don't have a phone
* Their mental health is an obstacle in some way

Etc. They very well may have already tried the numbers you're going to be giving them, and found them unsupportive for various reasons.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:34 AM on January 27 [3 favorites]

This is a kind and good thought. Let me start there.

Thing is, people are not homeless because they do not know what resources are available. They know far better than anyone else what help is out there and how to access it. Homelessness is complex. Money is far better in this situation than any card or print-out.

If you have resources that you truly believe need more attention, contact the local homeless charities and let them know. They have the knowledge and connections to spread the word far better than any one else.

Channel your kindness and thoughtfulness into the most efficient ways of helping end homelessness.
posted by peacesign at 4:38 AM on January 27 [7 favorites]

Giving a list of resources might be helpful to someone who is newly in that situation and not yet familiar with the resources available, but much less likely to be useful to anyone who has been dealing with it for a while.

And, around here (which may be very different than where you are) almost all the panhandling is done at streetcorners and specific sidewalk spots, and people basically have those reserved in shifts (i.e., you always see the same person at a given intersection all afternoon, but a different person every morning, and neither are ever replaced by a random new person). So, here at least, if someone is panhandling they are probably not new to the situation.

Are there good (i.e., dynamic, inclusive, not transphobic, etc.) outreach organizations where you are? I'd start by talking with them and seeing what they recommend given their on the ground knowledge.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:24 AM on January 27

This is a nice idea, but money is almost certainly best. You could also ask them if there's anything in particular they need.
posted by Mavri at 6:54 AM on January 27 [1 favorite]

The most effective use of your resources would best be utilized by determining which organization on your resource card is the most effective in helping the houseless and donate directly to it.
posted by jmsta at 7:20 AM on January 27 [2 favorites]

Check with your local homeless and crisis support orgs. They may already have such a card - my city does - and you can either simply hand out those, or use that as a starting place for how to make one and who to put on it. Organizations come and go, so if they do have one it may need updating.

The ones available in my city are double business card sized, folded on the long end so they fit nicely in a wallet, with a different sort of assistance information on each quarter. I don't have one but I remember vaguely that one quarter was food help, one quarter was shelter help, one quarter was legal and bureaucratic help and one quarter was mental health and physical health resources.

If you do get them printed there may be some kind of subsidy available - one of the local printers used to give a big discount for printing them, and churches and other indigent support groups might have a fund. I understand that you plan to pay for the printing yourself, but if there is a need for this kind of a card getting 1000 printed rather than 200 might be worth your while, especially with a volume discount and result in the homeless orgs and the library also being able to hand them out.
posted by Jane the Brown at 7:58 AM on January 27 [1 favorite]

Also, before you get them printed check out all the contact info to make sure they are up to date and available. It's not enough to check that you copied the information correctly.

Phone them and go there or you could easily include information that is factually correct, like the right phone number and address of a church that provided warm up shelter at the beginning of the winter, but hasn't since December 29th because their aged congregation members who ran it got sick, or the correct street address for a free laundry location that is out of service because the machines are all broken, or legal aid clinic that has suspended service due to a grant not being renewed.

Providing these kinds of service is a high stress situation and not all providers can keep it up very long. It often happens that outreach is too difficult to sustain, or too expensive as when you get a free laundry with donated laundry machines that break down, or are locked away to prevent unsupervised use, and are only available when a certain volunteer is present, but that volunteer is only dropping in once every couple of weeks.
posted by Jane the Brown at 8:19 AM on January 27 [4 favorites]

Nice idea! Agree this is a thing already so find the local one if you want to do it (may be online or obtained by getting to know your local shelter/homeless outreach service/etc.)

Also every person is different so hard to know what would be helpful to any given individual. Just to give the example of my own neighborhood: there have been three main panhandlers over the years at the freeway onramp close to my house. I know a little about each of them: One is housed, educated, and has income, from the area with many local connections. Has a persistent stimulant use disorder so perhaps would benefit from harm reeducation resources or if there were great psychotherapy services - that would be helpful referral info. Another is housed in a community board and care that provides meals, light medication management and a bed for folks with severe mental illness who have case managers that arrange and manage the housing. He likely panhandles to have extra money for cigarettes or whatever small expenditures. Unclear to me what resources would be helpful to him. Third person was homeless and lived in the bushes next the freeway. Seemed pretty savvy to local resources but there are none in my neighborhood and this is the situation she had staked out because she had previously been housed in the neighborhood. She would probably most benefit from a case manager who could work with her over time and also from subsidized permanent housing. I stopped seeing her and most likely outcome unfortunately is that she died.

It's really cool that you give money and you're thinking about how to do a little more that goes a little farther upstream to problem solve. My suggestion is spend 5 hours a month (or whatever small amuont of time you have on the side) supporting organizations that either grow subsidized housing/increase the housing supply/fight for rent control and eviction moratoriums/fight for greater taxation.. etc.
posted by latkes at 8:32 AM on January 27 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! These answers were exactly the kind I was looking for.
posted by coolname at 11:05 AM on January 27

This is a local question, and I'm not in your area, so take this with a grain of salt.

Social Work-wise I'm one of these people who hands out a bunch of information all the time, most of the information cards aren't useful except in circumstances such as being new to homelessness, or unfamiliar with the city (such as someone who came from one place to another), or when I'm answering a very specific question such as how do I apply for a ID for free or some such). So asking someone is by far the best way to find out what somebody is looking for. Many times I have short conversations about what I do have and ask if they need them. I also ask if they have any questions for me as a Social Worker because that's when I'm mostly having these conversations. Many times people tell me they don't need anything, so I go on my way. Sometimes people ask for things I can't give and I have to say no but people are accepting. People who are homeless are in general pretty happy to answer questions about things that they need. Here in Chicago where bus cards are a flat fee, bus cards are a common request as it gives access to a heated area in the wintertime for a period of time, on demand, which is key for some people who may not be able to keep a schedule that works for shelters.

I got a donation of Hothands(a brand of chemical handwarmer) recently and the people who I work with who are homeless are pretty happy to have them. It is something warm in their pockets/gloves that is not large and disposable, and can be activated when they are ready to, is quite useful for people who do daily panhandling as well. So if I had a limited amount of money that I wanted to spend on one useful thing to hand out right now, that would be my number one choice.

Warm socks, new underwear, gloves, and hats are also useful. Many people who are homeless aren't able to keep using the winter gear they have if it gets wet or too dirty (due to access to washing, laundry and such) so having some to give out doesn't hurt even if they may not need it all the time.

Anyway, Good luck !
posted by AlexiaSky at 1:45 PM on January 27 [2 favorites]

Randomly one of the things I make sure to do especially this time of year is talk about the current weather forecast with people. Sometimes people who are homeless do have phones, or other access to up to date information, and sometimes they don't. But for someone who doesn't, any major change in weather for the worse, such as a significant drop in temperature, or there will be a significant change in snow/weather patterns can literally save a life this time of year, so its something I'm very much in the habit of chatting with people about.
posted by AlexiaSky at 2:01 PM on January 27 [2 favorites]

In Portland, OR there’s the Rose City Resource. It’s a small booklet that gets published once a year and is free and available to anyone who wants to hand them out.

That seems like the kind of thing you’re looking for.
posted by bendy at 6:17 PM on January 27

Also, yes, struggling people usually know about resources and sleeping rough can rarely ever be attributed to ignorance of the facts.
posted by bendy at 6:20 PM on January 27 [1 favorite]

In my experience, a good number of the people out there are there due to reasons we did not consider, and it's not always "they ran out of means". One example a few decades back was they caught AIDS from drug use, so they chose to NOT live with their family. Another would be they have had bad experiences with shelters and prefers to take their chances on the streets.

The people who are "chronically homeless" are there for a reason, and it's usually NOT "they didn't know where to turn for help". IMHO, the best way to help them would be actually spending some time with them and understand their situation, rather than trying to create a "help guide".
posted by kschang at 6:47 PM on January 27 [1 favorite]

I felt the same so I started Each year, I buy about 100 blankets. I stick one or two in my backpack in the morning and As I cycle to and from work/around the city, I hand them to those in need. I have lots. If anyone want to volunteer to hand some out, DM me. Downtown NYC.
posted by pmaxwell at 5:01 AM on February 8 [1 favorite]

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