Homeless people have many needs, but most importantly, they need a true friend. By true friend I mean someone who will stick by them no matter what. The stress of becoming homeless, and the stress of being homeless can cause a person to do some odd or extreme things, which will cause most people to recoil. But a true friend would not abandon a person when they become homeless.
Being a homeless person's friend is not always an easy thing to be. You have to be smart about it. A homeless person may ask you to do things that you are not comfortable with. If that is the case, then don't do them. But you don't have to entirely reject your homeless friend because you refuse do to certain things for him/her. A homeless person who is also an alcoholic may ask you to buy him/her a bottle of wine. You might not think that a good idea, and you'd probably be right about that. So don't do it. And that may also hold true for other things a homeless friend may ask of you, like cash, or other things that may end up enabling their addiction, or other problems.
Still, a friend who is supportive and encouraging is the best thing a homeless person can have, and will be the most effective in helping the homeless person get out of their homeless situation.
Other than a friend there are some things homeless people need or could certainly use while in their homeless situation.
- Clean clothes that are in good condition. Not only is it good for the homeless person's self esteem, it helps the homeless person to socialize in the realm of the non-homeless, if they at least don't look like a homeless person. Dirty, ratty clothes are one of the biggest giveaways that a person is homeless. And so many people reject those who even look homeless.
- A place to store their valuables and other things. The homeless environment is such that it is very easy for a homeless person to lose his valuables, or for his valuables to be stolen from him. Having a safe place to store his things helps him to keep his valuables, and keep all his possessions in good order. Lockers at homeless shelters are often available but are relatively expensive for a homeless person to rent. Perhaps you could make arrangements with a shelter to pay for the monthly locker rental of a homeless person.
- Or I have known that some people allow a homeless friend to keep things at their house, or in a storage shed in their back yard. Of course I would only recommend this if you know the homeless person really well. Perhaps you know their family, or you knew them before they became homeless.
- Toiletries for keeping clean and presentable. This would include everything from soap and shampoo to razors and shaving cream - combs, brushes, nail clippers or files, make up, deodorant, etc., etc.
- A Sturdy Back Pack. Of the less expensive brands, Jansport, has proven itself over and over to handle the riggers or homeless life better than the others. I know this from personal experience as well as hearing from other homeless people. When looking for a backpack we always look for a Jansport first. (And I feel I must tell you that this is my unsolicited endorsement. I have not been approached by any backpack manufacturer, or other business interest for my review of items.)
- Seasonally appropriate attire and accessories. Coats in winter, shorts in summer. And certainly, clothing items and accessories such as mittens and flip flops will be different in Fargo than in San Diego.
- Blankets and sleeping pads. The reason that you see homeless people carrying around cardboard is that the cardboard provides a layer of protection between them and the cold concrete they often sleep on. But cardboard is unwieldy and unattractive. A roll up sleeping pad, such as used for Yoga, would help considerably. Blankets are important too, even in warm weather a person should stay covered when they sleep. It is necessary for homeless people to remain unseen when they sleep, so although those shiny aluminum emergency blankets are effective at keeping a person warm and are relatively inexpensive, homeless people I know will not use them. Still, it may be different for homeless people in your area. Ask around to be certain.
- Food and a warm place. Cards, or gift certificates to fast food restaurants and cafes allow a homeless person to get decent food and drink, and allow them to get inside somewhere out of the elements. Subway food is healthier than McDonalds, but Subway doesn't sell coffee, at least not around here.
- Toilets and restroom facilities. Not many businesses allow the homeless to use their restroom facilities, and few cities offer public restrooms anymore. Still, homeless people need to go somewhere, especially late at night or after business hours. If they go where they are not supposed to, they may get a ticket, or get sent to jail. Talk to your local homeless shelter about allowing their facilities to be open 24 hours a day, or have your city install public restrooms or portajohns in public areas that homeless people frequent.
- Opportunities to make money and reconnect with society. Employment is the key to reentering society. But employment can be extremely difficult to obtain for homeless people. Few people will openly hire homeless people, so homeless people have to lie to get jobs. Also, homeless people may be feeling depressed or unworthy of employment and so will be reluctant to go looking for permanent full time employment. The thing is, temporary work pays very little, and does not offer dependable employment that a person can use to get out of homelessness. Selling homeless newspapers is often the best solution to getting a homeless person working and making their own money. Being homeless actually qualifies a person to sell homeless newspapers, so the homeless person does not have to lie to get the job. The homeless person is allowed to set their own hours, and can work in an area of town that is most convenient for them, since they are in essence working for themselves. They are paid in cash for the papers they sell, so they don't need a bank account for cashing a paycheck. And they have immediate access to the money they have earned too. They immediately see the reward for their labor, and that helps them to build their feeling of self worth. If you would like information on how to start a homeless newspaper in your city, contact the North American Street Newspaper Association.