AdviceSan Francisco

12 Ways You Can Help the Homeless

Updated: Mar 12, 2016 09:44
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Guest post by Meghan Murphy from

HandUp is direct giving for homeless people and others in need in your neighborhood. Your donations are redeemed for basic needs like food, clothing, and medical care through their partner organizations. Learn more here.

image from Fast Company

It can be an overwhelming feeling to not know what to do when you walk past someone in need on the street. Maybe you’re ready to help, but not comfortable giving out cash directly. One thing to remember about our homeless neighbors is just that – they are your neighbor. Here are 12 specific things that you can do to help the the next time you see a homeless person on the street in your community.

12 Things You Can Do to Help The Homeless

1) Smile – This simple gesture goes a long way, especially for someone who consistently sees people avert their eyes toward them. A Princeton study showed after seeing a homeless individual, our humans brains react the same way to seeing an inanimate object such as a table. Let’s make compassion cool again.

2) Say Hello – Homelessness is extremely isolating. Just by saying “hello”, “how are you”, or “have a nice day” can change someone’s entire day. Let a homeless neighbor know that the community does care and you see them as a fellow human being.

3) Buy a coffee – On your way to work? Spend an extra $2 and offer to buy a homeless neighbor a coffee or a hot chocolate.

4) Buy a warm meal – Pick up an extra meal to go during your lunch rush. Bonus, ask them what they would like before you buy it. One of the small luxuries we forget we have is choice, and when you are homeless those choices are limited.

5) Give out socks – Hygiene can be challenging when you live on the streets, especially podiatry. Socks are a warm and cozy reminder that someone out there cares.

6) Give a gift card – If you’d prefer not to give out cash, carry a few gift cards on you to grocery or drug stores. If you’re in San Francisco, check out HandUp Gift Cards that ensure that your homeless neighbor can obtain their basic need items and connect with local human service resources.

7) Give info on local resources – Sometimes people experiencing homeless just don’t know where to get the resources they need. Most organizations will have small flyers you can pick up to give out, or jot down a few of the addresses for local homelessness organizations. Helping direct people to local support can be a game changer for them. Start by checking out Project Homeless Connect, Coalition for Homeless, and National Coalition for Homeless Veterans to see which chapters are local to you.

8) Buy a Street Sheet or Real Change newspaper – Street newspapers are written and published by nonprofit organizations, with much of the content written by the homeless community. Vendors then distribute the paper in exchange for your donation. The articles usually feature poverty, housing, and homelessness issues – pick one up and learn a little more about your community while supporting someone in need.

9) Donate directly to local nonprofits or individuals – Making a donation to a local organization or on HandUp will ensure that your gift will go directly to a member in need to help them reach their fundraising goals. Find an organization that you feel passionate about and make a recurring monthly gift. Even $25/month makes a big difference. Local to San Francisco you’ll find Glide, St. Anthony Foundation, Lava Mae, Larkin Street Youth, for a start.

10) Go volunteer – Spend your free time where it counts, whether it’s serving meals in a homeless shelter or providing tutoring for homeless youth. An added bonus, you can meet and directly impact those in the community who need it the most. Check out the volunteer pages of your local human service agencies where most keep up-to-date opportunities to get involved.

11) Learn why people become homeless – Empathy goes a long way into understanding the many reasons why people become homeless. Sudden life events such as unemployment, lack of affordable housing, or a medical condition can all force people into homeless. Research where you can, or if you spend time doing any of the above you’ll get first hand stories from the individuals themselves.

12) Be safe – It’s always important to use your judgement, especially if approaching someone you are not familiar with on the street. For outreach walks I always recommend having a buddy and stick to open public spaces. Do what you feel comfortable doing and trust your instincts.

Meghan Murphy leads Marketing and Community for focused on supporting homeless neighbors across the US. She is San Franciscan by way of North Carolina, and never hesitates to spin it like a helicopter when needed.

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Broke-Ass Stuart - Editor In Cheap

Broke-Ass Stuart - Editor In Cheap

Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, poet, TV host, activist, and general shit-stirrer. His website is one of the most influential arts & culture sites in the San Francisco Bay Area and his freelance writing has been featured in Lonely Planet, Conde Nast Traveler, The Bold Italic, and too many other outlets to remember. His weekly column, Broke-Ass City, appears every other Thursday in the San Francisco Examiner. Stuart’s writing has been translated into four languages. In 2011 Stuart created and hosted the travel show Young, Broke, and Beautiful on IFC and in 2015 he ran for Mayor of San Francisco and got nearly 20k votes.

He's been called "an Underground legend": SF Chronicle, "an SF cult hero":SF Bay Guardian, and "the chief of cheap": Time Out New York.