Want to Know What the Homeless REALLY Want in Care Packages? The Real Deal From a Mama Who Has Been There.

 





Want to help the homeless in your area? You can create a care package, survival kit, or blessing bag. No doubt you’ve seen these posted online somewhere, but often those items are not as helpful as you might hope. I can tell you what to include to help the widest range of the homeless, and why.How do you know, you may wonder. I’ve been homeless. I am an educated, perfectly nice, regular mom, who has been homeless. Multiple times. I’ve lived in my car, I’ve lived in a tarp tent, I’ve stayed in transitional housing. Many people are living only one paycheck away from homelessness, and this includes families in every area of every state.

Jump to the list.

Want to know what the homeless really want in care packages? The real deal from a mama who has been there.

A person is a person, no matter where they live.

(Tweet: A person is a person, no matter where they live. #actofkindness http://goo.gl/HNzQBJ @MoreWithLessMom)

  • The homeless are here, right now, and they look just like everyone else.
  • That man sitting in his car in the big box store parking lot, he’s not waiting for his wife to come out of the store.
  • That single mom in the grocery store, juggling children and frowning while she tries to choose something, she’s spending her last five dollars on food.
  • The kid at the laundromat, who has a job but still can’t afford rent.

At the extreme edge of homelessness are the people who are living on the street. However they got there, a little help can go a long way.

Situation is not character

(Tweet: Situation is not character. #gratitude http://goo.gl/HNzQBJ @MoreWithLessMom)

You should not see someone less fortunate, feel guilty, and make a care package to throw at them. Shelters and other aid agencies have volunteers who have been trained on how to deal with various types of people needing help. They have methods in place to determine that people who need their services get them, or they give them freely and have practices in place to make that process safe for all. Why not invest in the programs and services they already have in place with a donation? If you want to look into a charity you can use a resource like GuideStar or Charity Navigator to learn more about them.

If you want to make something to give to people who are asking for money on the side of the road, you can do something like this, but they may be begging and not have a real need. Is that ok with you?

There are two levels of our social strata we are dealing with here. One is the professional beggar/panhandler you see on the side of the street. The other is someone who is living without a stable home or basic necessities. The plumage of these species is often indistinguishable. Should you give them money? How can you tell if they really need it? Are they trying to take advantage of you? Are you in any position to judge, either way?

There’s no way for you to know how that person got there. Use your best judgement. Actually have a conversation with that person, as if they were standing in line at the store with you. (Always be safe.)

If you’re tied up in knots about your help going to the “wrong” people, donate to your local shelter. They know who needs help and how to help them.

What’s the best way to get to know your friendly neighborhood legit homeless person? Volunteer at your local soup kitchen. This is the place where they serve a hot meal to whoever walks in. Some of these people are just looking for company, some are poor but have a home, and some are homeless. You will find that it is often hard to tell the difference. There is no uniform for the homeless. Their plumage is the same as yours. (Tweet: There is no uniform for the homeless. Their plumage is the same as yours. #homelessnessstinks http://goo.gl/HNzQBJ @MoreWithLessMom) Should you ask them right out? Well, would that make you uncomfortable if the roles were reversed? Most likely, that would be embarrassing, and you should save the deep probes for when you know them better. As you get to know people, you can ask them what they need, and you might be surprised at the answers they give you.


Give Them a Ride (Kinda)

211If you can’t stand giving money to a panhandler, and can’t stand not giving help to someone in need, I have a plan for you.

Get some maps of your local bus routes (the nearest city with a homeless shelter, for you country folk). Mark any homeless shelters, soup kitchens, and free church suppers. Make a document with the name, address, and service hours for these places, plus any handy resources for the homeless. Add a bus fare. Place in zip bag.

The panhandler will take the money from your kit and toss the rest, the homeless person may save this for a really cold night, but none of that is your choice. You choose to do a good thing and the rest is up to them.

If there are no services in your podunk town you can make a list of charities that can help, and 211 is a national database you can call to find help.


So… I know the drawbacks of delivering this kind of care package personally (safety being an important one)
I don’t need recognition for this act
and I know some or all of this may be thrown away.

Why do it, then?

For one thing, I know that some part of this may be useful to someone in need, and if I give it to the shelter that’s who will get it. Making the packages can be a mindfulness exercise. And making them with kids can be about gratitude, talking about appreciating what we have and being kind to others. Just because this isn’t a grand gesture, doesn’t mean it isn’t worth doing. (Tweet: Just because this isn’t a grand gesture, doesn’t mean it isn’t worth doing. #homeless http://goo.gl/HNzQBJ @MoreWithLessMom)


Care Packages for the Homeless (the list)

*Update: Now you can download a PDF with the most important bits of this post, for your mission project, act of kindness, or community service idea.

Care Package for the Homeless PDF

Care Packages for the Homeless (the list)

Clothes

  • Gloves (ones you can layer are good, so if something gets wet you can switch, waterproof are good)
  • Socks (this is possibly the most important thing, thermal or wool)

NOT cheap socks. Socks are not available at the thrift store like most other clothes, but keeping your feet clean and healthy is important when they are your primary transportation. At one point I had regular socks, wool socks, plus a styrofoam cutout under the liner of my boots. If you know the wonder of wool socks you know that’s what you should get.

Toiletries & Health

NOT soap, if you are in a place with a shower they will have soap, public restrooms have soap
NOT shampoo, soap cleans your hair too. Travel size conditioner is nice.
NOT hand sanitizer, mouthwash, or anything else with alcohol in it. Addicts are drinking this stuff to get a buzz
NOT large bottles of anything, big bottles won’t fit in the backpack holding everything you own, include multiple small bottles they can trade or give away if you feel the small bottle isn’t enough
NOT really smelly toiletries, even if you think it smells good or they must stink and want to mask their odor. Hello, insulting

Food

  • Beef jerky (even if your teeth are junk you can suck on this until it’s mush and still get the protein)
  • Breakfast bars or cereal bars (they do crumble but you can still eat them)
  • Chocolate (sure it may melt, melted chocolate tastes good)
  • Mints (gum is hard for the dentally challenged)
  • Peanut butter crackers
  • Raisins/dried fruit
  • Snack cups/applesauce/pudding cups
  • Tuna/chicken salad cracker kits
  • Water (dehydration is one of the biggest challenges, especially if you can’t get around easily)

*personal taste, dietary restrictions, and the status of your teeth limit how useful food will be
NOT granola bars/trail mix or other crunchy or sticky foods. If you want to include granola bars they will keep a long time, but they may have to be traded for something more appropriate. Many of our homeless are vets and do not have access to proper dental care. The way we treat our vets is a post for another day.

*UPDATE: I went to a vigil for the homeless and I saw an item that looked very useful once it was dark and my hands were numb. One woman was wearing a headlamp around her neck. These are like a flashlight, but they have a strap to wear on your head, mostly intended for camping. If I had been holding a flashlight I would have dropped it and broken it within 5 minutes, a waterproof headlamp and batteries would be very useful. They range anywhere from $10-40, and you can get them at the big box stores.

Money

Yes, money. You should make the best choice for you on whether you include money.
Not a ton of money, but if you had none dollars you can make $20 go really far.

How do you know what that person needs? The best person to know that is them. They know what they need, and if you give them money they can get it. Is that person possibly an addict/alcoholic/chronic money waster? Yes. Is that person a person who can make their own decisions? Yes.

*Money and safety: There is always an issue of safety when dealing with people who might be addicts or mentally ill and possibly violent. If you are donating your packages to the shelter money can be included (you should ask the shelter). If you are handing these out personally you might want to leave the money out.

Things that can be bought with that shiny money/needs you can’t predict (you can feel free to buy these things and include in care packages):

  • Coat
  • Scarf and hat
  • Sewing kit
  • Shoes
  • Sleeping bag or mat
  • Underwear
  • Adult diapers
  • Baby diapers
  • Comb/brush
  • Feminine products or menstrual cup
  • First aid kit
  • Infant formula
  • Medicine/pain killers
  • Nail clippers
  • Razor
  • Pet food
  • A day pass to a gym, campground, or truck stop for a shower
  • A night in a hotel to sleep warmly and soundly, without worrying about someone stealing your stuff
  • Can opener
  • Flashlight
  • Headlamp
  • Gas
  • Hand warmers
  • Pay-as-you-go cell phone and minutes
  • Pillar candles, matches
  • PO box to receive mail
  • Quarters for the laundromat
  • Stamps
  • Tarp 6×8 gives good cover without being bulky

NOT gift cards. If you just handed me a gift card, how am I going to get to that place the gift card is for? Do I spend to just under and write off that little bit extra, or do I wait until I have a little money to spend over?


The two most sought after items are socks for anyone, and pads for women. (Tweet: The two most sought after items are socks for anyone, and pads for women. #homelessness http://goo.gl/HNzQBJ @MoreWithLessMom) Yes, feminine hygiene pads. If you had no bathroom, no stuff, no money… what would you do for that one week every month? Besides cry.

Water is also important.

Pack in a big, clear zip bag, with an inventory at the front so they can see what’s in there.
Pack this just like you would pack for yourself or your children. Put goos in zip bags. Keep food separate. Don’t give used/opened items. Don’t give really nice things that will get the person beat up and the item stolen.

If you were to receive this, you might not need it right away. You might want to save it for a harder time that month. You have no place, and your backpack is full. What do you do with it? You stash it somewhere and hope somebody doesn’t take it. What happens to it if it isn’t in a zip bag? It gets wet and gross. Bag it! For a container you can use a gallon ziploc, gently used purse, shoebox, or sock, but I say haul your privileged tushie to the store and buy zip bags big enough to fit your items in. Better yet, put it all in a backpack.

Please note, if you are handing out packets most likely what is not needed immediately will be thrown away. If you want to hand these out yourself and are making handy packages this is just the way it is.

A card made by a child is welcome. A poem or something to read is nice. A religious tract comes off as being superior or preachy (try using your actions, not paper to send your message), although a heartfelt personal message with a bible verse can show you care.

Bonus item: Sympathy and encouragement. Nothing will touch you when you are in a hard place more than honest sympathy. Not condescension or pity, but a recognition that we all could end up in that same place. Take a moment to consider being in that situation. How many paychecks away from homelessness are you?

What’s the problem with a list like this? It tries to generalize a population that is very diverse. This list contains the things that will help the most people. But every area is different, every situation is different. As a homeless mom I would have loved hand sanitizer and trail mix.

Too rural to see homeless people around? There are homeless people everywhere, but sometimes you just don’t see them. Sometimes people in trouble have to go to a more urban area to access services to help them. Call a local church or town welfare office and ask where your care package should go, or use that handy 211.

Now that you have made a care package for the homeless and delivered it, you are awesome. If everyone helps a little we can make a big change. Enjoy that little happy bubble giving provides.

But are you done? Or do you want to do more. Volunteer. Educate yourself and write to the local paper, to your representative. Be an advocate.

Why do we have banks sitting on empty houses, rotting away, while the family who lived there is living in their car? Why do we have vets who risked everything for all of us, come home to be shoved to the edges of society? Why do we shun the people who have fallen victim to addiction and mental illness?

How is any of this ok?

Links

Homeless Survival: Practical Tips And Advice Derived From Personal Experience from The Survivalist Blog
Homeless veteran survival packs and gear lists from Wandering Vets
Items to give to area homeless people from MetaFilter
Make Sure To READ THIS Before Making Care Packages For The Homeless! from TheVeteransSite.com
Printables for Blessing Bags from Thirty Handmade Days
Thanks and Giving – Paying Blessings Forward from How Does She

Have excess money and don’t know where to put it? Donate to Hundred Nights, the shelter in Keene NH.
Hundred Nights

Homelessness stinks.

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Advocating for the working poor and affordable housing in New Hampshire. Championing homeless families in NH.

Follow Melissa French: More With Less Mom & HousePunkery’s board Kindness bombing on Pinterest.
Follow Melissa French: More With Less Mom & HousePunkery’s board Do Good on Pinterest.

More With Less Mom

Also see
An Exercise in Sympathy for the Homeless: Explode Your Budget from The More With Less Mom
An Exercise in Sympathy for the Homeless: Explode Your Budget

I have a confession to make: the meal plan is a lie (homelessness stinks)
I have a confession to make: the meal plan is a lie (homelessness stinks)

Care Package for the Hard Times Kitchen Challenge
Care Package for the Hard Times Kitchen – The Challenge

Random Acts of Christmas Kindness Advent Calendar
Random Acts of Christmas Kindness Advent Calendar

Thrifty Thanksgiving for Tough Times – Thanksgiving Blessing Bags
Thanksgiving Blessing Bags

Photo credits: Hobo cats from Adam Koford on Flickr, see more of these kitties at the webcomic Hobotopia

We hope you enjoyed our What the Homeless REALLY Want in Care Packages post

Shared with Best of the Weekend, Busy Monday, Inspire Me Monday, Idea Box, Inspire Me Wednesday, Lou Lou Girls Fabulous Party, Monday Funday, Motivation Monday, No Rules Weekend Blog Party, Project Inspire{d}, Small Victories Sunday, Totally Terrific Tuesday, Treasure Box Tuesday, Weekly Wrap Up Linky, Wonderful Wednesday.

Melissa© Written by Melissa French, The More With Less Mom

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Comments

Want to Know What the Homeless REALLY Want in Care Packages? The Real Deal From a Mama Who Has Been There. — 62 Comments

  1. For the past two years, my 3 boys and I have put together bags for the homeless based on what a coordinator at the local shelter told us would be the most useful. While I felt like it was a step in the right direction, we delivered the bags to the office at the shelter with no contact with the patrons. This year, I would like to give the issue a “face” for my boys. We have talked about going to all of the thrift stores in our area (There are a lot) and buying coats and sleeping bags to give to those in need. I need a game plan to involve my boys in the giving without danger. Do you have any ideas? Maybe when one of the churches opens it’s doors for a night? We have a few churches that stay open all night when the temperature reaches freezing so that folks can get out of the cold. My boys are 9,10 and 12.

    • Actually one of the best ways for your boys to see those people and understand a little better is to volunteer at the local soup kitchen, especially one associated with a shelter. That would be a safe environment, and they are old enough to be a help. Many of the same people who stay at the shelters get dinner at a soup kitchen first. I would talk to the local churches who are active in helping about what would be best, they should have a good feel for where is safe.

  2. Thanks for taking the time to write this post. I have handed out bags to my roadside friends, and with your input my bags will be more useful now!

  3. Thanks for sharing your perspective on this. It’s sometimes hard to determine whether people are being genuine and what the right things is to do. You’ve definitely helped me decide what to do. Thanks!

  4. Thank you so much for taking the time to write this! Very helpful information! I’m a fairly young individual that’s still trying to wrap my head around the complexities of homelessness and this kind of information is exactly what I was looking for. I never considered issues like hard or sticky foods in the absence of regular dental care. Common sense that slipped right past me. Thanks for the insight!

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  10. Thank you so much for this, all of it, every word. When I first moved to the city, I started carrying a bag of apples and oranges with me. I’d hand them out to the homeless people (or panhandlers) on my walk from the bus stop to my job. As interest from my “regulars” grew, we conversed a few minutes each day. One of them finally, and very gently, asked if I might bring bananas instead of apples. His teeth were too far gone to bite into and chew apples. I realized I hadn’t been thinking clearly about their needs and asked him what else he might need. He didn’t mention socks, but he did ask for a new pair of shoes. His had been stolen and the ones he had found to wear didn’t fit. He got new shoes. After that, I bought softer foods, including bananas, for him and the others on my route.

    But it’s what he said next that really got to me. He said that just stopping and talking to him each day, acknowledging that he was a human being, meant so much to him. He said some days he stood there all day, trying to get enough for food and a place to stay that night, and not one person would speak to him.

    When I first met him, he was clean and sober, and always seemed the gentlest of souls. As time went by, he hooked up with a brute of a fellow, clearly under the influence. He volunteered one day that he was afraid of his friend, but that he protected him too. After that, the signs of drug and alcohol use began to show, and after a few months, he would take up his post, barely able to stand most days. Then one day, he disappeared and I never saw him again. I watch for him still and pray he is well.

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  12. This is a great post. Will definitely come back to read other posts. I’ve never given any packages to homeless ( not financially stabled at time ) but it’s something I would love to do. My heart aches on helping someone 🙂

  13. You mentioned menstrual cups, is this a generally acceptable thing to give? Ive thought about this, as I use a cup myself but I wonder if a homeless woman would bother with it or if she would be intimidated by it. It would be a wonderful thing if she used it, she’d never had to buy feminine products again!

    • I would include one if you don’t mind it possibly being tossed. I got mine for $10ish off eBay. I suspect, if she couldn’t use it, it would be a good thing to trade. When we were living in our car I used a cup, but I had access to Walmart bathrooms. I never got dirty enough to be too embarrassed to go in, or chased out. For long-term homeless it might be hard to find somewhere they could sanitize the cup, but even just using it for one month and tossing it would be better than trying to find money for pads. There is also the issue of sizing, post-childbirth or pre-, but you can just use your best judgement on which to include.

  14. Thank you so much for the list! My daughters and I are going to put together a package for a local food bank and we’ll take these comments under advisement.

    However, one thing I’d like to point out: I’m a teacher and I get a lot of teacher-gifts at the holidays – that is, gifts from people who don’t know me well or have a very good idea of my tastes. I frequently get smelly toiletries. Not only do I not like them, most of the time I can’t use them – I break out in a rash. So I include them in care packages, not because I think the recipients are smelly people, but because they’re things I have that I can’t use that someone else might get a use out of.

    • I don’t think it’s bad to avoid waste or put something to good use instead of throwing it out. I think it’s wrong to look down on someone because of their station in life, which often comes from the way the homeless smell and how worn their clothes are. Anyone living outside for an extended period will get smelly and dirty, but that doesn’t change the person they are. As long you understand that some people may be unable to use those toiletries because of allergies or sensitivities, then it’s not a problem. Any item in there may be tossed, because you can’t predict their specific needs, so you just do the best you can.

  15. You have single handedly made my holiday bright. Thank you, thank, thank you for all that you have done and have now, taught me HOW to do more appropriately/effectively. I am going to put together some of the women’s packages when I return home. And, just as important, I plan to get to know the three homeless women that have just recently come to my street on a regular basis. You are an honorable inspiration, and if I had one, I’d give you a crown. Instead I will carry your message. May your holiday be scattered with joy.

  16. Your insights show us how easy it is to be loving and compassionate towards each other. Thank you, Melissa. I can imagine that this simple post has opened hearts that may have been too fearful to take action before. Bless you.

  17. Thank you, thank you, thank you. You bring a much needed human face and nuanced understanding to homelessness in the U.S. Too often people patronize, dehumanize or stigmatize people currently without housing, stereotype them or just totally misunderstand their situation. Bless you!

  18. I’ve never been homeless myself, but I’ve been close. Growing up my dad was a truck driver and an alcoholic who didn’t spend money wisely or make a lot of it, and there were times we didn’t even have food or money for the clothes we needed, but fortunately we got a lot of hand-me-downs. Technically, it’s just me and my mom now, and we’re still poor, but I make sure we have food and the bills are paid every month (not always on time unfortunately). I became an exotic dancer recently and money has been easier to come by thankfully. I’ve worked hard, had three jobs at one time, and I’m in my early 20s and after working myself into exhaustion and to the point where I was getting sick and I couldn’t afford to get sick. So the new job is nice and gives me a chance to go to school now and still pay my bills. Getting care packages like this when I was a kid would have been great, we sure could have used them out in the country where people couldn’t see our poverty. Now that I have the money to do so, I can’t wait to make some! Never forget where you come from!

  19. Im really glad I ran across this. I have a big soft spot of those who are in an unfortunate place. Just tonight my husband , my three daughters and I saw a homeless man on an off ramp of the interstate. It’s 6° here right now, with a wind chill of -10. (We ourselves are barely paycheck to pay check….my husbands been out of work for a month….) But we bought him a coffee and some food. I found out he and his wife are staying in an abandoned house. I happened to have my daughters sleeping bag. And gave him that too. Your article will help ALOT to help me help them and others. THANK YOU!

  20. Thank you for putting this together. I have such a heart for the homeless but I also see career panhandles making more in a day than I can make in a week. I am so torn at what to do. My husband works within a service community so he sees and knows homeless people. When we lived closer to town he began teaching the kids to give to some of the people he knew and we saw. We do not have that opportunity (of running 4 blocks to the store every time we need something) so we aren’t seeing these people any longer. But, If we did on the way in the store I would shop for them; usually a deli sandwich, milk, fruit, yogurt, the things they wouldn’t generally have access to and put it in it’s own bag for them and put it in their hands on the way out.
    Being in a rural area and being a sahm has severely limited my ability to be involved. With the help of your ideas I can create the giving to be ready when the opportunity presents its self.

    Thank you,
    Kirsten

    • It is much harder in rural areas. There are most likely transitional housing charities in your area though, just because you don’t see people sleeping in doorways doesn’t mean there aren’t homeless people around. Often this is single parents or moms fleeing domestic abuse. Your transitional housing shelter could hand care packages out to the people they have to turn away.

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  22. Thank you for this beautiful article. God bless you for your kindness. My question is this. What to do when people have jobs granted they are minimum wage yet they receive free housing, food stamps child assistance, free childcare free transportation free phones free internet etc. To name a few yet they are very poor children are severely neglected and hungry. I do not know the reason if it is even my business. I just want to help and am asking how i should help them. Often times lack of knowledge puts people in a messy situation. Input please. Be kind. Thank you.

    • I don’t know anyone like that, so I wouldn’t know. I do know plenty of people who receive multiple assistance programs. And plenty of people who work multiple jobs and still don’t earn enough to pay rent. The cost of housing is a huge hurdle for many people. It’s hard to gauge the best way to help people, except to ask. They know what they need.

  23. Hi! Thank you for taking the time to post this. I was wondering what you thought sleeping mats made out of plastic yarn? Or plarn? Do you think they are useful?

    • So I absolutely love the idea of these. Making some would be a great service project. They might be even more useful than a tarp. They help insulate you from the ground, they don’t mind getting wet, they’re fairly light. However, many of the ones I have seen completed are large and unwieldy. When you have to carry everything you own on your back it all needs to fit on your bag, these should be small enough to fit inside a sleeping bag so they can just roll up. Other than that, go for it!

  24. I’m a seamstress that would like to volunteer my services at a shelter that has shower and clothes washing facilities. Is clothing repair on site something that would be practical or should I just put together sewing kits ?

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  26. I was looking for some information to help my Girl Scout troop with a service project (making care packages) and I happened on your site. I found it so interesting and well written that I read first one entry and then another and another. . .I looked up and realized I’d been reading for about an hour. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and insights. I wish you and your family all the best!

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