According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, there were over 500,000 homeless Americans on a given night in 2018. You might not even know the person next to you on public transportation or in line for fast food is somebody without reliable access to shelter, hygiene, and a place to prepare meals. It seems like such a big problem that there's nothing you can do, but ask anyone who is or has been homeless and they will tell you some of the most helpful aid they received was from individuals who extended themselves in personal ways.
A recent Ask Reddit thread asked people who were homeless for a period in their lives to share the best things people did for them during that period. You'd be surprised how meaningful even small gestures can be.
A user cutsjuju, who is no longer homeless, says the best thing anyone gave him was "an old, baggy waterproof jacket with a big hood. It had many pockets too." Even though it was a little bulky to carry around, it was "very useful" — so much so, it's still in his possession now that he has a place, a job, and medication to manage his mental illness.
One of the most frequent gift the formerly homeless cited was the gift of hygiene. "Most homeless people aren't long term, living on the street type homeless," says a user who was temporarily without a permanent residence for about four months. Though they "had a job, some savings, and a working car," what they lacked was a bathroom with a shower "so I could go to work and not stink." Having access to simple hygiene supplies and a bath or shower can often make the difference that helps someone stay employed or get a job if they're out of work.
A gym membership
This may seem like a really odd gift and not exactly a necessity for someone living in their car or outdoors, but it all goes back to that hygiene issue. Most gyms have hot showers and many even stock soap and other toiletries. Even a basic gym that charges a $40 membership fee can be a godsend for someone who otherwise doesn't have access to bathroom facilities. A commenter called residentialninja says his gym used to have a member who would sleep in his 24-hour gym, and nobody cared because he was kind, respectful, and clean. "He was a nice guy, once he got himself sorted he moved on but it was a great resource for him."
Clean, warm socks are a comfort that most of us take for granted. But if you have limited or no access to laundry facilities, a new pair of socks can make your entire day, as a few respondents agreed. Homelessonce says, "Shoes too. But the simplest thing of socks. Made me feel better about myself. When it was cold I could pull out a pair or four to use on my feet or hands." New, unused socks and underwear are usually at the top of the list in clothing drive requests for this reason — they truly make a profound difference.
A poster called TheGarp, who found himself homeless in Utah with his girlfriend, says at one point they squatted in an abandoned house. It was the middle home in a row of three abandoned properties, flanked on either side by two more abandoned homes. "One day a guy came and knocked on our door, saying he was the house owner," he says. Immediately, Garp volunteered to pack up and leave immediately, but the owner instead thanked him. Turns out he owned all three empty properties and appreciated Garp and his girlfriend "for keeping the crackheads out of them."
Then he not only let them stay but turned the power on for the couple. Six months later, he got a job at eBay and it was "onward and upward from there." To thank his kind former "landlord," the poster's wife, who owns a body shop, works on his cars for no charge.
Feminine hygiene products
30 percent of homeless people are women, but shelters say they rarely receive donations of sanitary napkins or tampons. They're a monthly necessity for most women but rather expensive. "A friend of mine was homeless for a bit when she was a teenager, and she told me she once broke down when a woman handed her a grocery bag filled with boxes of tampons," says yourenotmymom_yet.
"She recounts never having enough sanitary products but being so put off by how expensive they are that she hated spending the little money she could find on buying them.
A transit pass
For homeless populations in cities, reliable access to public transportation can help get them to and from place to place safely and more quickly than on foot. This can help people get to job interviews or places with services that can help. Plus, buses and subway trains are shelter, too, and many homeless use them to stay warm and dry in inclement weather.
Being homeless can be lonely... and boring, as some said. "I don't think people realize how lonely and bored you get when you don't have a place to live so you are stuck hanging out at the library or a park all day," says raygunsally. They say the best days were when a friend would invite them over to cook a meal, wash some clothes, and hang out.
"If you have a friend who is homeless, try to still be their friend. You don't have to try to solve all their problems for them, but just hang out with them sometimes. It means a lot."
They're small enough to carry in your wallet and can provide one or several hot meals whenever the recipient needs it. And, as PriorInsect points out, this can also provide much needed shelter if the card is for a 24-hour establishment like Denny's. If the person who holds it is a paying customer, it isn't considered loitering if they spend a few hours inside at a table having coffee and a freshly cooked meal.
A couple people who were homeless for a period said one of the nicest and most impactful things someone did for them is fostering their pets while they worked to secure stable housing. "I had two cats that I wasn’t able to take to a shelter," says Meeka-Kitty. "My friend took them in for an undetermined amount of time, and free of any charge. He also even also for their food, litter, and even toys."
Knowing their beloved pets were safe not only helped relieve stress but left them feeling reassured that they would be able to reunite once they got back on their feet.
The number one kindness homeless people on this thread cited? Being treated like human beings. Whether it was the person who made eye contact and asked "do you want me to get you something to eat?" or who took the time to talk to them and meet them with eye contact, many people on the thread agreed this meant the most to them.
One person, Asmoday1232, who is currently homeless, says the best resource for her now is "people ... that make eye contact and smile and nod back at me," adding, "it gets me through."