The dumpster delivers.

The dumpster delivers. Useful items for foul weather and safety found in a dumpster by Crane-Station (as masonbennu) on flickr. Note the reflective tape on the bike helmet. Safety equipment is scarce among the homeless population.

What homeless people need most may surprise you. Of course, there are obvious intangibles such as dignity, love, and acceptance, as well as semi-tangibles such as telephone, internet and shower access.

This post focuses on some of the tangibles.

Author’s note. This article is posted at Firedoglake/MyFDL with a bit more commentary and an interesting comment thread.


If you have never been homeless or nearly homeless and wandered the streets, you may not have noticed that there is no place to sit down. American city streets discourage sitting and benches are few and far between. Cotton tube socks are key.

More about those feet and those hands.

Let’s donate a bit of hydrogen peroxide and epsom salts (both mentioned in the discussion) as well as some hand sanitizer, bandaids and gauze. Without good gloves to the hands and shoes to the feet, one cannot safely manage a life in the street. Further, the homeless diabetic population can lose improperly protected hands and feet. A homeless friend of mine also requested bug spray because we live in an area of the South where prior flooding and subsequent standing water brought a large mosquito population to the season.

Superglue, duct tape and zip ties.

Three of my favorites. Superglue is fabulous for small cuts.

Don’t food stamps cover toilet paper?


Toilet paper is scarce out there. This necessary burden often falls, unfortunately, to gas stations and parks. Why food stamps do not cover this necessary part of human living, that every single human being uses on a daily basis is beyond me. When such an item is missing, a homeless person must spend a great deal of time, in a limited geographical area, looking for it.

Why would anyone need a flashlight?

Many reasons. For people surviving on dumpster contents, a flashlight is essential. Winter is on us, and it is dark most of the time. Many homeless folks do not have glasses, and it is difficult to see without extra light. In addition to a small flashlight, those batteries for that light are also essential.

Perhaps a cyclist can weigh in on this one:

Bicycle-related supplies. I gave my friend on a bike a tire pump and bungee cords. Many folks on bikes do not have lights, so they cannot safely navigate during the evening hours, which begin early in the northern areas.

For good measure, throw in this:

My friend asked for nail clippers. To someone else I gave the crem-de-la-crem of the dumpster: a fancy Swiss Army/Leatherman’s Tool. I even gave away a Coleman camping lantern.

On that note, you won’t believe this one:

A can opener. Yes. I have tried to bite and claw my way into a good many food bank cans, because I did not have a can opener (and food stamps will not get you one). If you donate canned goods to food banks, try to donate those cans that have some sort of a pull-tab or pop-off top.

A note on MREs:

Military Meals Ready to Eat are fabulous. If you have some spare ones, donate them, please.

What are we going to put this stuff into?

An inexpensive, light but sturdily constructed backpack.
Also, for trash and rain-resistant storage, sturdy black garbage bags. Folks on bikes will be very happy to have a frame on the bike, so that they can transport things.

What is better? An umbrella or a raincoat?

A light raincoat with a hood is better. For brothers and sisters on bikes, donate a shorter raincoat, and for those on foot, a light, rain-resistant long coat.

So, what about getting around town. What of the homeless abled who are looking for work or who are trying to get to a Labor Ready line?

Bus passes. An urban area bus pass can mean the difference between getting work and not getting work. It can cut down the time spent looking for a meal from eight hours to thirty minutes.

It is getting cold.

That is what blankets, jackets, knit caps and sleeping bags are for. These items are safety essentials.

What about that dignity, acceptance and no stigma thing?

Quit thinking ‘us’ and ‘them’ and start thinking ‘us’ and ‘us,’ because that is what it is going to be anyway. If you dumpster dive, share. If you are poor, find someone poorer and help them. If you are fortunate enough to have transportation and someone is unable to get someplace, offer a ride. Homeless folks are you and I. We are the ninety-nine percent.

On edit: here is some information about frostbite. Risk factors include diabetes, beta blockers and peripheral neuropathy.


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