This article originally appeared on 3.12.22
Homelessness has been on the increase in America since 2016 and the numbers exploded in 2020. On a single night in January 2020, there were more than 580,000 individuals who were without a home.
There are many reasons for the increase in homelessness and one of the leading causes is a lack of affordable housing across the country. Housing prices have been on a steady increase and, according to PBS, we are about 7 million units short of affordable housing in the country.
So what can the average person do about this human tragedy taking place in America’s streets? Some people who would like to help don’t feel comfortable giving money to homeless people, although experts in the field say that most of the time it is OK.
“If you don’t have money or time, or capacity to donate, I still think it’s nice to be respectful and say hello,” Diane O’Connell, a community lawyer for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, told the Chicago Tribune.
Actress Jennifer Garner, 49, shared a great idea on Instagram for those who would like to help homeless people but aren’t sure how to do so.
The actress posted a video where she filled zip-up plastic bags with everyday items that homeless people need.
"Random act of kindness: gather these essentials in a quart sized ziploc bag and keep them in your car to give away when you see someone in need,” she captioned the post. “A pair of thick socks. Kleenex. Hand wipes. Disposable toothbrushes. Chapstick. A couple of granola bars. I forgot this time, but like to add feminine hygiene products, too. Add $5, $10, $20 and a smile.”
For those not comfortable giving money, they can put a gift card in the bag for a local restaurant. O’Connell says that one thing most homeless people desperately need is a hot meal.
“Simple, cheap foods like bagels and doughnuts aren't that helpful,” O’Connell said. “People who are homeless can usually buy things like that for themselves." Often what people experiencing homelessness need is a hot meal, she said, because that’s more difficult for them to buy.
Greendrop says that the items most commonly requested by homeless people are socks and undergarments. Homeless people are always walking and have a hard time accessing laundry facilities so their socks and undergarments are often dirty or falling apart.
Here are some other items that will help make homeless people more comfortable:
Shampoo and conditioner
Hair brushes and toothbrushes
Feminine hygiene products
Garner’s Ziploc bag tip is a great idea because it’s a simple way for people to lend a hand when they encounter someone on the streets. How many times have you been driving around, saw someone in need, but didn’t have any way to help? This way you can easily brighten someone’s day when you see them at a freeway on-ramp or in a parking lot without having to ask yourself whether you feel comfortable giving them money.