10 Dos and Don’ts in Loving Homeless People

love the poor and homelessThis post contains 10 Things you SHOULD DO when serving the poor and the homeless, and 10 Things you SHOULD NOT do.

As there are different things you should or should not do for homeless people versus those who have a home but are poor, some of the items on the list begin with the words “Homeless” or “Poor” for things that are specific to those groups of people.

10 Things to Do for the Poor and Homeless

  1. Get to know the poor and homeless. Spend time with them. Ask them their names, and remember them. Tell them yours. Shake their hands. Be open and friendly. Touch them. Hug those who want hugged. Allow them to tell their stories. Listen. Remember.
  2. The poor and homeless are our equals. Honor them, respect them and treat them as our brothers and sisters. Feel honored that they are willing to share their lives with you and that you have the opportunity to spend time with them.
  3. Find out from them what they most need. Your presence, your touch, your love, may be at the top of the list. If you’re giving them “stuff”, personally hand it out. Remember – You’re “sharing”, be it your time or your stuff.
  4. Homeless: Check with your town or city to make sure they do not have an ordinance against distributing food on the street.
  5. Homeless: If you distribute food, small items that can be held in the hand and that don’t need plates, silverware, ovens or refrigerators work best. If you plan to give out cooked food, make sure hot food (soup, burritos, pizza, etc.) is kept hot until you hand it out, and that cold food (meat sandwiches, etc.) is kept cold until you hand it out.
  6. Homeless: Give them new socks and underwear. Bag them individually in Ziplock bags, marked with the size. The highest quality socks and underwear are usually not necessary. When socks and underwear get really dirty they may be thrown out by those who don’t have access to a laundromat.
  7. Homeless: Give hotel size, single use toiletries – soap, lotion, shampoo, razors (bag one or two disposable razors in Ziploc snack size bags) and so on. Find toothbrushes that have covers. 16 oz. bottles of shampoo or lotion often end up in the garbage (They’re too heavy to carry.) You can buy single use items in bulk from hotel supply companies for a few pennies each.
  8. Homeless: Many of them have significant dental problems and cannot eat items that require a mouth filled with good teeth, such as apples. They can usually handle bananas, tangerines and oranges.
  9. Poor and homeless: Give them clean clothes, blankets, and similar items that are in good condition. Launder and fold them and label them with sizes. Dirty clothes and blankets usually end up in a dumpster.
  10. Homeless: Always take bottles of water, regardless of the time of year. Dehydration is a common problem among the homeless.

homeless need socks

10 Things Not To Do for the Poor and Homeless

  1. Homeless: Never give them money. If they tell you they need it to buy a specific item, buy the item for them.
  2. Homeless: Never tell them your address or take them to your home. If you doubt the wisdom of this, let’s communicate privately.
  3. Homeless: Don’t go alone. Don’t go in large groups. Groups of three to five work best. Don’t go after dark. Mid morning to mid afternoon works best.
  4. Homeless: Don’t take your wallet or purse or wear expensive jewelry or clothing.
  5. Homeless: Don’t give them new clothing, with a few exceptions – socks, underwear, and possibly shoes. Why? – Three reasons:
    1. Expensive new jackets, hoodies, shoes and similar items may endanger them in areas with high populations of street people, where it is likely they’ll be mugged (and possibly beaten) and lose that new coat you gave them.
    2. They frequently sell those items to raise cash to fund their habits. We go the day after Christmas, and they try to sell us brand new coats, shoes, blankets and similar items. Swap meet dealers in vans also patrol the homeless during the holidays, offering to pay cash for new items.
    3. Many do not have access to laundromats. When the sweatshirt you gave them gets filthy, if they can lay their hands on another one, they’ll throw the filthy one in the trash, whether it’s the $1 one you bought at a garage sale or the $30 one you purchased at the department store.
  6. Poor and homeless, but especially the homeless: Do not clean out your attic or closets, bag up the stuff and drop it off on a street corner in the homeless area. Most or all of it will end up in a dumpster. They do not need gold four-inch heels, bell-bottom pants from the 70’s and broken blenders. If it’s usable, donate it to the thrift shop. Otherwise, throw it in the trash!
  7. Homeless: Do not drop off cases of bakery products, such as loaves of bread, packages of rolls, whole cakes and pies, packages of frozen dough, unbaked pizzas, and so on. Most of this will end up in the garbage.
  8. Try to avoid giving out “packets” of items, such as a toothbrush, lotion, apple, socks and soap, unless you tell them what is in the packet and ask them which of those items they need. Otherwise, they sort through the packet after you’ve left and throw away the items they don’t want.
  9. Avoid giving out major items at Christmas, especially to the homeless. Visit them at Christmas, take along water, tangerines, little bags of crackers, hotel size shampoos and that type of thing. In most urban areas, many of the people who are on the street on the weekend before Christmas and on Christmas day are not homeless. They only pretend to be homeless and are on the street to get free blankets, sleeping bags, coats and similar items which they plan to sell at the swap meet. Hand out the sleeping bags and similar items at least a week on either side of Christmas, when the real homeless people will get them.
  10. Avoid giving out large quantities of candy. Many poor and homeless cannot afford dentists and have bad teeth. Also, people who work with drug addicts have advised us against giving out candy. Apparently some addicts will live on drugs and candy if possible.

These are not exhaustive lists. Of course, some of these things may not apply where you live. If you have one homeless guy in your small town who sleeps on the city square, you would probably notice if several other people sat with him on Christmas day, pretending to be homeless so they can receive new blankets and sleeping bags.

We would love to hear additional ideas or questions in the Comments section from those of you who also come alongside your poor and homeless friends.

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    • Sam says

      They have a location here in southern California where we can pick up supplies. Since most of the items are heavy in bulk, shipping may be expensive if you need to have your order shipped. If you live in or near a large city, use your search engine to search for a local supplier where you can pick up the supplies. (Search under hotel soaps and amenities) Here’s a link to the place we go:


      As an alternative, if you know a local hotel or motel manager, they might be willing to include your order with theirs and charge you their cost. Explain that you plan to give the supplies to the homeless.

  1. Brenda says

    Thank you for this information! I have been wondering how to help. I always feel so sad when I walk by them and I want to do something but don’t know what to do. I have handed out gift cards for subway but that gets really expensive and I can only help a few plus they might sell them.

    • Sam says

      If you need more ideas, such as specific items most of the homeless need, let us know. We try to avoid gift cards, since those frequently get converted to cash which is used to buy whatever it is the person is addicted to.

    • Linda Gostomski says

      Some hotels are willing to put their toiletries, that have gotten wet or damaged, aside for a group. The paper on soaps may get wet but the soap inside is dry, just not pretty on display for a paying guest. Be faithful to communicate and pick up the donations though. Most don’t want the boxes sitting around taking up space in their supply rooms.
      Educate yourself on programs, that support the homeless, already in place in your community. Volunteer and donate to help them survive and thrive!

  2. Nuno says

    Hi! I have founded a homeless help movement and have been doing give outs for some time now. I was wondering about your DON’TS # 2 and 3, would you kindly be able to elaborate on those please?
    Please feel free to contact me privately (preferred, really).
    Many thanks in advance.

  3. Tony C says

    This is a great article, practical and relevant. Our church ministers to the homeless, and most if not all of these principles are part of our strategy too. Well done, bro :)

    • Sam Riviera says

      Thank you. As I noted in my response to J below, conditions vary by locale, and you may need to do some things differently where you live.

      We’ve had local people get very upset with us for advising not to give money to the “homeless”. When they tell us they always give something to the guy on the corner (at such and such a location) and we tell them that guy is not homeless, but drives a new BMW when his shift on the corner is over, they see the need to rethink their cash handouts. The really bad thing about what they’re doing is that it takes resources away from those who really need them, the real homeless people, and gives cash to a guy who is pulling down $60K annually by posing as homeless.

      The best way we have found to avoid helping the wrong people is to get out on the street and meet the homeless. Spend some time with them. Get to know them. Then you will know who is really homeless and what they really need.

  4. J says

    Hi Jeremy,

    I do not know where you are based, but I found that this post is not applicable in the area in which I live. I live in Australia & have been working with homeless people for quite a while now. Half the things you mentioned on your post are irrelevant in our case as most people we have come across have needed the stuff that you mentioned not to give out but I guess it’s a different situation everywhere.

    Thank you for sharing your post though.
    Keep doing God’s work.
    With love,
    J, Melbourne, Australia.

    • Sam Riviera says

      These comments are based on the homeless situation in large cities in Southern California. If you have been working with the homeless for many years in Australia and the situation is different there, then you know what works best there.

      For example, here new coats and blankets at Christmas rarely get used by the people who receive them, but are sold to swap meet dealers. We see it happening and the homeless themselves tell us that is what often happens. Many of the “homeless” on the street the weekend before Christmas (the homeless have told us it is one third to one half of the “homeless” present) are not homeless, but people who dress up as homeless to get the free items.

      Many of the panhandlers (people asking for money) are not homeless. They are professional beggars who pose as homeless.

    • says

      Many of the ideas in these posts work well in the urban areas of North America (Canada, USA, and Mexico). I do not know about other continents or countries. Just keep learning to love, and you will discover needs.

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