10 Ideas For Helping Homeless People

help the homelessIn addition to finding ways to build relationships with the poor, we are building relationships with the homeless and finding small ways in which we can help them.

We have over ten thousand homeless people in our city. We want to help, not make it attractive to live on the street, if sleeping on a cold sidewalk in a rainstorm might be considered attractive.

San Diego has agencies that work on permanent solutions for getting the homeless off the street. However, for every ten that get off the street at least ten take their place. Some never get off the street. We know some who have been living on the street for over twenty years.

My wife and I do not have the skills or resources to get people off the street. We try to help those who are waiting their turn to get into one of the shelters or programs that provide housing and services, and some who cannot get into shelters or programs because they are unable or unwilling to follow the rules (which usually have to do with drug and alcohol usage and behavior).

There is no template, one-size-fits-all plan that works for what we think of as “giving a cup of cold water” to our friends on the street. If we lived in Chicago or New York City, we would need to adjust some of what we do, especially in the winter.

10 Ideas for How to Help the Homeless

  1. We go to where the homeless live on the streets. (We do not go to the homeless scattered in the canyons and backcountry.) We park our car, get out, walk the streets and meet them.
  2. We greet them and tell them that we have water and whatever else we have with us that day, and ask if they need some of those things. We usually keep our supplies in a garden wagon that we pull behind us.
  3. We ask their names, shake their hands when possible and hug them when they want hugged.
  4. We talk to those who want to talk to us. We meet brilliant, unemployed people who have PHDs, people who are mentally ill and make no sense, and lots of people somewhere between those extremes.
  5. We ask them what they need that they have difficulty finding. Tarps are the number one request in winter. New, clean underwear is also high on the list. Those who sleep in a shelter at night have fewer needs. Those who sleep outdoors have a greater need for warm clothing, sleeping bags, blankets and that sort of thing when the weather is cold.
  6. Since we buy almost everything we give away, we try to find sources for decent quality products at a good price. For example, we have sources for inexpensive, bulk supplies of soap, shampoo, lotion, razors. toothbrushes, toothpaste, Q-tips and so on. (Hotel supply companies and dollar stores)
  7. We work with a local food distribution group to acquire inexpensive supplies of fruit, crackers, cookies and similar products that are packed in small packages.
  8. We have an inexpensive source for 6 X 8 tarps with corner grommets for wet weather use (Harbor Freight – $1.99).
  9. We scour garage sales, thrift shops, and swap meets to find used clothing, backpacks, sleeping bags and similar items that are in good condition. We do not give away new clothing, except socks and underwear. (I’ll explain why in the “Do’s and Don’ts” in the following post). We wash the clothing, fold and label it with the size on a strip of masking tape and put a stack on our wagon.
  10. Our friend David, who goes with us each time, always brings a couple of dozen packages of baby wipes (great for cleaning dirty hands), and a few other people give us used clothing. Two other friends give us bags of new socks and occasionally tarps.

care package for the homelessWater, food, toiletries, clothes, and similar items are temporary help at best. Some people assume that hundreds of churches and individuals hand out these sorts of things to the homeless. That doesn’t happen. Christmas may be big, but the rest of the year is hit and miss.

We frequently hear comments such as “That’s the first water I’ve had since yesterday,” “I’m wearing the only pair of pants I’ve had for six months and they’re full of holes,” “I haven’t had any clean underwear for months,” “We’ve been under the bridge at night with the addicts and are afraid to go to sleep. With these tarps we can get away from them and sleep at night.”

From time to time we see efforts by Christians and churches to “evangelize” the homeless and tell them about Jesus. We assume something of the message must get through, but have observed that is not always the case.

Do we tell people about Jesus? We’ll talk about that in a future post.

Until then, have you discovered ways to help your homeless friends? Please share your experiences in the comment section below.

Receive all the posts about "How to Love Homeless People" by email!

This series of posts is written by Sam Riviera. In it, he shows you what it looks like to minister to the homeless, and provides numerous practical suggestions for how you can begin to show love to the homeless in your town today.

There are about a dozen emails in this series, and by signing up, you will receive one every two days. This will allow you to spend the next couple of weeks learning how to share the love of Jesus with the homeless people in your town.

Add your name and email address below to get started.

(Note that if you already receive email updates, filling out this form will take you to an "Update Subscription" page where you can opt-in to receive the posts on How to Love the Homeless by email.)

Want to learn more about Scripture and Theology?

Skeleton ChurchWhen you choose to receive my blog posts by email below, you will also receive my future eBooks for FREE.

As a bonus, you will immediately get access to one of my most popular eBooks: The Skeleton Church.

Enter your email address below to get started.



  1. Asma says

    Hi Sam
    Thank you for this post, I have something to share with you and I need help :)
    One week ago, I’ve meet a homeless
    he sleeps on the street, I woke him up, and told him that I’ll buy food, he told me that he also wants cigarettes
    So I bought cigarettes, sandwich and a soft drink
    I gave him all these, and tried to talk with him; I asked if he is cold to bring him a cover, he said “No”, he took cigarettes and said he dont need food, he wants only to smoke and drink alcohol, after a minute I left and I heard him talking to the grocer and he told him to take food and to give him cigarettes and lighter in exchange !
    It hurts me, cause if all homelesses are like him, I dont know how can I help them !!!
    Any advices or suggestions ?

    • Sam says

      We never take money with us when we visit the homeless. We always take water and sandwiches and whatever else we might have (maybe socks, tarps when it’s rainy and so on). Although some people feel otherwise, we never provide cigarettes, alcohol or other things that fuel their addictions. We also limit sweets.

      Even though some people don’t want to talk, many do. We wear jeans and t shirts, walk among our homeless friends and spend time sitting and talking with some. We treat them just like we do our next door neighbors. On a typical Sunday we spend three hours plus with our homeless friends.

      Learn their names. Ask how they’re doing. Try to figure out what they really need if you want to share with them. Bottled water and clean underwear are usually at the top of the list, and warm clothes in the winter.

      Thank you for caring for the homeless, Asma. If you have more questions, e-mail Jeremy and he will give you my e-mail address.

      • Asma says

        Thank you Sam ^_^
        I’ve just sent an email on facebook to Jeremy, I go to send you a message when I’ll receive your email address

  2. Justin says

    i dont know where your going with the Christians try to spread the gospel but we try live in likeness of Jesus and it is apart of being a christian is spreading the gospel regardless of what if it gets through or not i like your post but dont like how you direct it towards Christians like that as if we dont care for them or something? i dont really get where your going with that and why you had to bring that up! AS a Christian i want to help the homeless and tell them the real meaning in GOD and that he is there for them and to not feel alone if you cant understand that then i need to show you JESUS or something

    • Sam says

      You’re reading something into those two sentences that is not there. The next paragraph says that there will be another post that discusses telling people about Jesus. You can read that post at http://redeeminggod.com/just-love-homeless-people/

      The street preaching/evangelism that we see that is directed at the homeless may be well intended, but we have yet to see that it is effective. Surely it sometimes must be, but we haven’t seen it and the homeless we know do not respond positively to it.

      This isn’t a theological discussion. It’s all about getting to personally know the homeless, making friends with them, spending time with them and getting to know and love them. When we do that, we have many opportunities to share Jesus with them.

      This same principle works with almost anyone. It’s not a matter of having to prove to anyone else that we care about someone, love them and share Jesus with them, just like we don’t need to prove that we love our wife or our child. They know, and they are the ones to tell those stories.

  3. Justin says

    But you are good people and i hope god blesses you and i am thankful for your post and for you to share how to help them!:)

  4. says

    Hi to all who care for the homeless. I have a vision to provide home owership to the poor by raising massive wealth. If these people see the power of God then they may listen. I would like you to read my web site then get back to me. In Jesus name Geoffrey and Paula Wheeler.

  5. Althea West says

    currently I live with a man who I met in a place in Berkeley, CA where he was seeking help. It’s a long story, but he is a mentally ill man who I brought back with me to Denver, CO and got him into the veteran’s domiciliary here and eventually Denver Housing Authority gave us a voucher for a place to live in the veteran’s apartments. I needed a place myself but I also knew he could not live by himself. He has been chronically homeless for about 40 years. I started out by bringing him socks and warm clothes and by befriending him. He was off his meds when i met him and had pretty much alienated everyone – but he asked me for help so I knew that he was worth helping. That’s a big requirement to invest in someone – if they are surrendered enough to swallow their pride and ask for help… they might be ready to make some changes. He has now been living inside for over a year. Next I started to feed him home cooked meals. I was renting a room in a house of people who were not very friendly toward him. I would let him come in and take showers when no one was around. Next I let him sleep in my car – I parked my car near where the truckers parked and he was able to sleep there without the cops bothering him. A few months later we took his SSD check and drove back to Denver where I had lived for 8 years. I had been having troubles of my own and had been couch surfing since the 08 crash – but was still not quite on the street – helping him helped me too – I was able to get a job once he was in the domiciliary in Lakewood, CO and now I have a much better job. I am teaching him how to cook. We are friends and we do almost everything together. I try to feed him really good quality food from scratch too. He is getting more and more socialized. We do laugh therapy alot – I try to get him to laugh alot. He has an $800 a month check – that’s it! He smokes a lot of tobacco – he has had a very hard life – his father was an organized crime boss, of sorts. There is alcoholism, of course. He had an accident at age 20 that rendered him mentally ill. He had been a National Merit Semi-finalist in High School with a request from Princeton to their PhD program – not a scholarship though so his parents refused to pay – it’s a long sad story of nothing going right for him. I hope I can make sure he is inside from now on. He’s 63.

    • Sam Riviera says

      Althea, It sounds as if you are really invested into helping this man and showing him the love of Jesus in practical ways. We believe that Jesus works through ordinary people like you and us to help those who need help. May God bless you as you continue to show his love to others.

    • Rana Nuesca says

      I am so touched by this. Your strength and courage is so what is needed in this world today. This site sure has shared God in a Beautiful Awesome way!!! My grand child is 9 years old and she possesses that heart of kindness towards those who are lost and need our help. She and I are working on a project together. This is so humbling to find a site with great love and great purpose. Thank you for being great leaders.

      I have a friend that couch surfs. Its been an adventure for her and I am truly reminded by her to remember the real world. I remind myself “yes” A Spirit Experiencing A Human Life. . .

  6. Thomas says

    Thanks for this blog and the forum for comments it generated, Jeremy. I live
    in San Francisco and occasionally work with a Christian group called City Impact,
    which does outreach to residents in the impoverished Tenderloin district.
    CI tries to reach the homeless there, too, so I am printing out the suggestions
    and comments above to pass on to a staff member for consideration.

    • Sam Riviera says

      These are a few ideas that we have used in getting to know the homeless. The needs of the homeless population vary from place to place and time to time. In our city, food and clothing have been in abundant supply the past few years, but housing, jobs and escaping drug addiction have been much more difficult to accomplish.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *