People Explain Which Items You Should Never Give To Someone Who's Homeless
Jean-Luc Benazet on Unsplash

Just a few weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic struck the U.S., homelessness was declared a national emergency. COVID-19 only made matters worse with the recession, increased unemployment and restrictions to shelter access.

When we think of our unhoused community members, there's actually great stigma associated with their lack of housing. Often people think poorly of their housing status and it's reflected in their treatment.

Though there is often an ask for food, clothing and monetary donations for the homeless, we wanted to know what is not needed too.


Redditor WITAFquestions asked:

"What's something you shouldn't give to a homeless person?"

Here's a list of things you should avoid giving to our unhoused friends.

Certain kinds of food are better than others.

"Food that needs to be cooked."

- Tempshrugs

"Also, food that requires a hard bite - many are in need of dental care."

- Puzzleheaded_Leggo

"This! I offered a man a nature valley granola bar once, cause that was all I had, but he turned me down because he couldn't eat it."

- ariariariariariari

"In the same vein, donate can openers to food banks if you can. And spices."

- EcoAffinity

"Donate cash to food banks if you can. They can buy food at wholesale prices which means more food to donate to the community."

- min_mus

"Some near me are not taking food donations. Only taking money. I don't know if it's because of this or COVID safety. But wanted to point it out before anyone goes to buy food expecting to donate it."

- Gorechi

Thanksgiving isn't the only time you can give.

"A frozen turkey."

"Had a friend who used to send plated meals to the homeless people near her house, occasionally. One day one of them came to her door with a frozen turkey. Someone had driven to the homeless area and handed this woman a frozen turkey. When the woman delivered it she said, 'I figured you have an oven, maybe you can use it. What did they think I was going to do with it??? I've got a shopping cart, not an oven'."

- polonnaise

"As a kid, who was poor but fortunately not homeless, we used to get a bunch of donated turkeys every Thanksgiving. Freezer would be wall to wall turkeys and we would be eating turkey for dinner for what seemed like months. Thank God we are least had a freezer or no doubt much of it would have been wasted."

"People always donate turkeys on Thanksgiving, but ignore the rest of the year I guess. But eating turkey for a couple of months is a lot better than eating nothing."

"I am thankful for anyone who donated something I ate as a kid, as I don't know where I would be now otherwise... Dead I guess."

- godofcheese

"Our grocery store used to donate turkeys every year for our Christmas drive (about 200 families) but they would run into the issue of people not being able to store or cook them, or just not practical to give a turkey to a family of 1-3 people, so now they give $25 store specific, hand written gift cards for people to get whatever they need."

- wibblywobbly420

Expensive brands.

"Anything of noticeably high value. Brand name clothing or shoes, expensive backpacks, watches, etc."

"This can get them killed, or at the very least targeted and mugged. It also makes things harder for them to be taken seriously and receive effective aid if they're dressed in expensive clothing (that or it's assumed they stole it, which is a whole other problem)."

- TrinketChicken

"Rich people want to make themselves feel good and donate Gucci sweaters and shit that will get them f*cked up and robbed, and nobody will EVER help a dude in a Gucci sweater with a few bucks to get some food. It's just all around a really screwed up gift/donation."

- pacman404

Advice about money.

"Related story time: I used to work at a thrift store in processing. Basically, I sorted donations, cleaned them up if needed, priced them, and put them out onto the floor."

"One day I got in a donation a bunch of those kits you see people put together for homeless people; they have things like a stick of deodorant, toothbrush/toothpaste, hand sanitizer, wet wipes, that sort of thing."

"I was going through them for things we weren't allowed to put onto the floor (like medication - they had packets of Tylenol in them) when I found a folded $50 bill in there. I unfolded it, and it was one of those Christian pamphlet things; you know the ones, that say, 'Money isn't the cure for everything, only Jesus will get you into heaven' or whatever."

"So basically, don't get someone who's desperate for money fake money that says they shouldn't worry about money."

- Diredoe

"Would be funny if people started putting those fake bill/Christian pamphlets into the collection plate."

- Awetumn

Just be kind.

"A hard time."

- 1feralengineer

"And disrespect."

- arc_alt

"Everyone thinks they are saying something unique and that their words are somehow going to change the homeless persons way of thinking and they will magically get their sh*t together because of their inspirational words. That poor homeless guy has to hear people telling him what they think he should do about his situation all the time. He’s sick of hearing it."

- tinybluebutterfly

Don't give items that you wouldn't use.

"Mostly related, but I work at a homeless shelter and you would not believe some of the shit that comes through donations. Lingerie, beat up clothing and shoes, outdated appliances..."

"If you want to donate, you can always call ahead and see if the shelter is looking for particular items. Seasonal clothing, hygiene items (NOT half used shampoo bottles) and new socks and underwear are always good ideas."

- Connect_Dog

"That reminds me of my time when I worked at a homeless center for mentally ill homeless and I was tasked with sorting out a box of dvd’s that were donated. 75% of the box was porn."

- DaemonDrayke

Food with laxatives.

"Laxatives. This homeless guy that used to live in a nearby bridge was given food that secretly had some sort of laxative in it. Needless to say, he became a lot more wary of free food afterwards. I don’t think they ever found out who the POS that did it was."

- justwannasleepplease

"You gotta be a special type of awful to mess with homeless people."

- chiree

​Non-consensual internet "fame."

"Internet fame. Stop recording your good deeds to get attention. If you wanna help someone out, just help them."

"There IS a difference between using someone for personal gain versus using social media in a positive way to truly make an impact. I'm talking about people who exploit others to grow their channel, and/or get a ton of donations and then misuse the funds."

"It's specifically an a**hole move when a person can't/won't/isn't given an option to consent (which you could argue are a lot of people, especially if they don't give consent and then aren't given resources since they don't wanna be in a video.)"

- flblk2020

Things you SHOULD give.

There's a lot of things that the homeless cannot use, but a few things that are needed besides food or money are socks or feminine hygiene products.

"I've done outreach work they get so much food and water but females need feminine hygiene products and they ALLLLLLL need socks."

- TheCavesCrack

"Nice socks and underwear are a small luxury that most people don't spend enough money on but make a world of a difference. I buy 10-20 pairs of Darn tough socks every year and hand them out, they are game changing."

"They keep you warm and dry in the winter, and in the summer time cool and dry. You can usually wear them for 1-2 weeks before needing to clean (need being an important word). And they are incredibly comfortable. I highly recommend them to everyone but they are really game changing for someone who is out in the elements year round."

- HandsyBread

If you're ever unsure what someone may want or need in that moment, you can always just ask them. It's better than guessing and giving them something that they don't want or can't have.

Next thing is to look into ways your community is working to end homelessness on a systemic level. Both prevention and response is needed to bring our communities to a healthier place.

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