Tips on Donating to Homeless Shelters

As strange as this spring as been, we are rapidly approaching summer and so it's the last few weeks to get your spring cleaning done. When looking through those old clothes, we of course encourage you to try and Upcycle as much of it as you can, but when it’s time to truly let go of something it’s always best to give it to someone who needs it. And unfortunately, it seems that generosity and compassion are in especially short supply these days.

If you plan on donating to a homeless shelter, remember that nothing beats doing research for a local shelter and understanding their wants and needs. Homelessness is a complex issue, with many differing faces to it. Some places are catered to people who’ve just become homeless, and so business attire to help them land a job becomes highly valuable. Other shelters cater specifically to the destitute who have lived off the streets for years, and so that higher end clothing may just end up making them a target for opportunists and the desperate. But while you do that research, here are some general tips to keep in mind to go that extra mile.

Buy some socks and hygiene products on your way.

The most requested items at homeless shelters are socks. It’s easy to picture why, between long days walking around, inclement weather, and fast fashion making all clothing cheaper quality, socks wear out on homeless people quickly. And as you can imagine, whether you're working with a homeless young person trying to hide their difficulties from their peers at school or with a someone who desperately wants a shower, personal hygiene products are always in top demand. So check and see if your shelter accepts those, and then the next time you go to drop off the gently used items from your wardrobe, pick up some socks and some deodorant on the way.
Donate old books or other forms of entertainment as well.

One of the most difficult things for all homeless people to deal with is boredom. There is a stereotype that all homeless people become homeless due to drug and alcohol abuse, but keep in mind that sometimes it happens the other way around. People who become homeless turn to substance abuse as a method to cope with the situation and the boredom. And also understand that while substance abuse is higher in the homeless population than with the general population, there are many, many people who are not dealing with substance abuse still struggling with homelessness.

Giving them an old book is giving them hours of entertainment and a mental reprieve from their situation. Don’t worry about finding the right “type” of book, because there is no right type. Everybody who reads has their preferences, their favorites, the books they’ve been waiting to read, and old favorites that they read again and again, and the homeless are no different. So next time you’re looking through the wardrobe for donations, check the bookshelf as well.

Remember that people of all sizes can become homeless.

Again, there is no one type of person that becomes homeless, and this includes sizes. While smalls to extra larges tend to get donated, there are still people in the extra-small ranges and the extra-extra larges who need clothing as well. Non-standard sizes are hard enough to come by for people in stable economic situations, but for people living in shelters finding clothes that fits can be a nightmare.

There are other situations to consider too. First of all, about one-fourth of people in homeless shelters are youth homeless. Growing children and teens constantly need new clothing, so sizes meant for younger people can be extremely helpful. Second, larger size clothing has another important function. For those people who have to walk outside all day long, it’s very advantageous to wear clothing in layers, so they can wear the exact amount to make themselves comfortable as the weather changes instead of having to go from a very warm coat to no coat. So larger sizes become even more prized to act as outer layers.

Know that Women and LGTBQ Youth are Especially Vulnerable.

While it’s true that there are generally more men in homeless shelters than women, know that a part of this is from women being in more danger while homeless. The other sad fact is that quite a few women become homeless because they’re fleeing from domestic abuse, and people fleeing a situation don’t often have the luxury of planning out exactly what they need to take with them, especially if there’s a child they’re trying to care for at the same time. Bras, menstrual pads, nail polish, and other female oriented donations can make a world of difference. Also know that 40% of homeless teens are LGTBQ youth. Aside from making the world overall more tolerant, you can help with this crisis by donating specifically with them in mind. Check out this wish list for some ideas on things LGTBQ youth might request. Maybe you don’t have a chest binder lying around, but you might have an old oversized hoodie that’d help get the job done, a nice looking wig that you didn’t realize was also a hot commodity, or a pleated skirt on the maybe pile that could make a trans girl’s day.

Some of you may be confused about why items like Sephora gift cards and nail polish are on the donation lists for women both cis and trans, thinking that makeup would be a luxury when housing is not secure. Aside from the psychological benefits of getting a chance to wear makeup, remember again that there are a lot more “types” of homeless people than the stereotypical image of homelessness. Many homeless youths are going to some sort of schooling, living from couch to couch as a long term arrangement. Makeup products help them blend in better and cope, especially if they’re a trans person who fears harassment if they’re not gendered correctly. Second, there is an extremely disturbing growing trend of working full time while still being homeless. Makeup products can help them keep professional appearances so that they can keep some sort of income at least.

Hopefully you found this article useful and know a little more on what the housing insecure people in your community need. For more articles on ethical living and other such topics, check out our Facebook, our Instagram, or our website

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