I’ll start with what NOT to give: Hygiene items of all kinds which are readily available for free at almost every homeless shelter / services provider; granola bars which can’t be eaten by the many homeless folks with bad teeth; bottles of water which are literally handed out everywhere the homeless congregate; socks, caps, gloves are never in short supply.
Things to give (which I was thrilled to receive during the decade I lived as a homeless camper in Boulder, CO): Small cans of vienna sausage; candy bars like Milky Way that melt in your mouth; ramen noodles and a food container to make them in (just add hot tap water and wait half-an-hour); gift cards to fast food restaurants and Walmart; bus passes (even a day fare is very helpful); BOOKS (I spent many hours reading at a shady spot next to a sidewalk near my campsite, and several people would give me their used books; when I finished, I’d pass them on to other homeless readers).
If camping gear is something you want to give, remember that a large good-quality tarp is most important (blankets and sleeping bags are often handed out by street outreach services providers).
Absolutely the silliest items I ever got were lists of homeless resources, which anyone on the streets learns about the first day they’re in a city. Many of us prefer living outdoors, far away from all of the negative things in a shelter.
Some would say that Bibles are useless, but despite being agnostic I’ve always valued the practical wisdom in both the Old and New Testaments.
On a hot summer day, an ice cold Coke is great. On a wintry day, you can’t beat a large McDonald’s coffee (better than Starbucks).
The thing I remember most, and which still makes me tear up, is the young girl I saw picking wildflowers and then leaving them at my campsite (she wasn’t aware I saw her doing this), and she never said a thing or introduced herself. Outstanding!
Colorado wildflowers (Linda Proudfit)