A painting of hands

What People Experiencing Homelessness Need Most

Feb 18, 2021

Have you ever wanted to help someone experiencing homelessness, but didn’t know how? 

We asked members of our staff who work with homeless individuals every day what we can do to help those experiencing homelessness. Corey, a Guild homeless outreach worker, and Anne, a Guild Team Lead for one of our housing programs, give us their expert advice.

If I See Someone Homeless on the Street, What Can I Offer Them?

If you feel comfortable giving directly to individuals experiencing homelessness, there are a variety of things that can be helpful to them. We encourage you to give if you are able.

PATH Outreach Worker Corey compiled a list of things that are useful for people experiencing homelessness:

  • Gift cards for food.
  • A night at a hotel for a shower.
  • Walmart or Dollar Tree gift cards for clean socks and underwear
  • An Uber, Lyft, or bus card for transportation to appointments.
  • A gas card for people living in vehicles to keep the heater on during winter. 
  • Phone cards to stay in contact with workers and doctors. 
  • Goodwill gift cards for clothing and shoes.

Delancey Services Team Lead Anne stresses that everyone’s situation is different, and every person experiencing homelessness has different needs, so don’t expect everyone needs the same thing. When in doubt, ask! If you are able, pick up requested items.

“I believe people should give what they are comfortable giving but without expectations or assumptions attached to what is given and how it will be used. We often do not know what led someone to experience homelessness.”

I’m Unable to Give, What Can I Do Instead?

Anne urges people to treat those experiencing homelessness with acknowledgment and compassion. “The stigma surrounding individuals experiencing homelessness has led to many of those individuals feeling isolated from and looked down upon by society. Acknowledging the individual by making eye contact, giving a smile and/or wave or taking time for a brief conversation when appropriate can be both helpful and meaningful.”

 What Should I Donate to Homeless Shelters or Homeless Outreach Organizations?

According to Anne, homeless shelters and outreach organizations frequently report needing socks. Other common needs are personal hygiene items, feminine hygiene products, and portable first aid kits. Gift cards and cash donations are also useful.

For homeless shelters, Corey recommends volunteering or donating cleaning supplies or cash.

I Want to Help. What’s the Best Way? 


“Donate to or fundraise for organizations and agencies that provide direct service to individuals or families that are experiencing homelessness,” suggests Anne. “You can also purchase from vendors who donate some of their proceeds to assist individuals experiencing homelessness like Bombas, Hippy Feet, The Company Store, or Box Lunch.” 


“Spend time volunteering with homeless shelters or service organizations,” recommends Anne. She also suggests volunteering for point-in-time counts, where volunteer teams put together a head-count of individuals experiencing homelessness in an area. This data is used to determine the funding community organizations receive to combat homelessness. The Wilder Foundation completes head-counts every three years in Minnesota. Corey suggests visiting individuals at a local outreach program and getting to know them.

Educate and Advocate

Knowledge is power. Educate yourself on homelessness and the ways to combat it. Make sure you’re informed about homelessness in your area and the factors that cause it.

“Use that education to educate others and to advocate for affordable housing and funding for services,” says Anne. “This often includes researching your local political candidates who can dictate community or city policies.” 

Guild’s Housing Services

Guild offers several different services for individuals experiencing homelessness, including outreach, housing support, and assistance accessing affordable housing. We work with individuals experiencing homelessness every day. 

Interested in donating to Guild’s services? Click here.

Interested in becoming a volunteer? Learn more here.



State of Homelessness: 2020 Edition, National Alliance to End Homelessness. The 2021 edition can be found here