What to Donate to a Homeless Shelter
Homelessness is truly a pandemic, both in developed and developing nations. Homelessness affects millions of people, and many homeless people stay in shelters. Whether they are emergency shelters, youth shelters, or violence against women shelters, most of these people have little or nothing when they arrive, and rely on what the shelter provides to them.
I work in a homeless shelter here in Canada, and most of this page is based on my own experiences.
Donating to your local homeless shelter will make a difference, I promise you that. While donations of almost anything are accepted and welcome, there are certain things that are more urgent than others. Please consider this list a general start, and if you have any specific questions, just call up your local shelter and ask!
"He who allows his day to pass by without practicing generosity and enjoying life's pleasures is like a blacksmith's bellows: he breathes but does not live." ~Indian Proverb
What Is Needed Most?
Some of the items on this list might surprise you, while others might be extremely obvious. Trust me when I say that donations of any kind are always appreciated.
Here is my list, in no particular order:
- Towels & Face Cloths
Bath towels and face cloths are something used daily by the clients. If a shelter has 100 people, you likely need anywhere from 50-100 towels to serve that group.
- Hygiene Supplies
Toothpaste, toothbrushes, deodorant, shampoo, conditioner, soap, Q-tips, feminine hygiene supplies, etc are always needed. While full bottles and tubes are always welcome, the travel or hotel sizes are perfect! Next time you're at a hotel, take the travel sized bottles from your room. After a few trips, you will have plenty to donate to your local shelter.
- Food & Water
Depending on the shelter, there may be meals served. Be sure to check with your local shelter before bringing in a donation of food. While non-perishables (canned and dried foods) last forever, non-perishables are important too! Did your company just have a party, and you have a platter or two of food left? You might be able to bring that to a shelter! Lensmaster poutine reminded me that bottled water is also incredibly important. Access to clean drinking water can sometimes be difficult for homeless people, so bottled water is always welcomed!
- Dishes & Cutlery
Again, if food is being served, dinnerware is likely needed. Old sets of dishes in your basement? Donate them to the shelter. If they aren't being used at the shelter itself, they might be kept to give to people leaving the shelter and moving to their own homes.
- Office Supplies
This one is something people don't think about. Shelters are often financed through monetary donations, and all shelters have some sort of administrative aspect. Offices always need pens, pencils, scissors, printer paper, paperclips, etc. Writing paper, envelopes and stamps are another item that could be used, particularly by clients looking to connect with loved ones. Journals and notebooks are also popular with clients!
This one is obvious! Monetary donations are always used to serve the clients. Maybe it's being used to fund an outing, or purchase new beds and mattresses. Whatever amount you donate will be appreciated!
- Sheets & Blankets
Donations of sheets and blankets are key to allowing people to sleep comfortably. Any sized of blankets and sheets will likely be accepted, but keep in mind that most shelter beds are singles. While blanket size doesn't really matter, sheet size might!
- First Aid Supplies
Again, something that has to be paid for by the organization. Things like Band-Aids, tensor bandages, Polysporin or antibiotic cream can be used in droves sometimes, and get expensive over time. Some shelters will also take over-the-counter medication (acetaminophen, ibuprofen, foot fungus creams, lice shampoos), so consider these too.
- Clothing & Shoes
Gently used clothing is always needed, especially shoes and socks. A lot of homeless people are out on the streets, sometimes for days at a time, and dry shoes and socks are so important.
Some shelters have 'computer labs' or lounge areas, and often the money to purchase equipment is lacking. Did you just buy a new computer and you have no idea what you're going to do with your old one? Think about dropping it off at the nearest shelter!
Lounges and quiet spaces in shelters are made so much more welcoming to clients if there is reading material. Consider adding to their libraries.
- Children's Toys
Some shelters cater to families with children, and often women who are victims of violence must bring their children with them to the shelter. Please consider donations of children's toys, for example, stuffed animals, colouring books, crayons, children's books, etc. Thanks to ---Chazz for the suggestion!
- Small or Large Appliances
Things like toasters or kettles can often be used at a shelter. Larger appliances like fridges, washers or dryers might also be needed. Check with your local shelter before dropping off something like this, though! Again, thank you to ---Chazz for the suggestion!
- Bus or Subway Fare
Thank you to poutine for this one! Bus/Subway fare (tickets, passes, etc) are always needed. Most homeless people do not have vehicles, and therefore have to rely on public transportation to go anywhere.
- Your Time
Homeless shelters almost always rely on volunteers to keep afloat. Donating your time can not only assist them, but be a personally rewarding experience. Contact the nearest shelter and considering volunteering for an hour or two a week.
If you're not sure what your local shelter needs, just give them a call and ask!