What to Give Your Homeless Neighbors this Summer

What to give homeless people in the summer

During the intense summer heat, homeless individuals face extreme exposure to the elements, with half of the 1,500 annual heat-related deaths in America involving homeless people. To help, consider donating these expert-recommended items, which can provide much-needed relief and protection.

Advocates Share Their Expertise on What to Give Homeless People in the Heat

The summer swelter is in full effect across the United States, and your homeless neighbors are constantly being exposed to the elements. The hostile sun is much more intense when funneled down against the glistening skyscrapers and absorbed into the scorching blacktop pavement below.

Much like in winter, summer is a time when many of us become keenly aware of the plight of people living in spaces unfit for human habitation. We see them looking hopeless against the heatwaves. We watch from the windows of coffee shops or peer out from our air-conditioned cars, knowing that unhoused individuals might not have access to these modern amenities that make summers comfortable, albeit survivable.

Did you know that at least half of the 1,500 heat-related deaths that take place in America each year involve homeless individuals? This fact alone should be enough to melt even the coldest of hearts.

Perhaps you’ve vowed to help homeless people this year but are unsure where to start. Today, three members of Elwyn’s mobile crisis team told us which items were best for helping homeless people beat the heat. Your potential help could make a significant difference in their lives, providing them with the necessary resources to survive the summer.

Below, you will find a list of handouts that, while simple, could serve as lifesaving materials. Most of the products on this list are inexpensive and easy to package and donate, making it possible for just about anyone to lend a helping hand.

1) Clean Undergarments

Bruce Anthony Locket, who serves on Elwyn’s mobile crisis team, said, “What I find from my experience is that people from the unhoused community request clean undergarments most during summer.”

This means baskets filled with new, clean undergarments are ideal. As we all know, heat can cause excess perspiration, which can wear down undergarments pretty quickly and cause them to need to be replaced more often, especially for people who might lack regular access to a washer and dryer.

We live in a world where sizes vary greatly, so items like underwear and briefs might be difficult to give away on a mass scale. That’s why Invisible People highly recommends Hanes socks. They’re easy to carry, relatively inexpensive, and one size fits most. Socks help to keep our unhoused neighbors dry during summer storms, which can lead to health issues. This leads to the second item, tents or tarps, which provide protection from water damage and the sun, both of which are imperative during heatwaves and heavy rains.

2) Tents or Tarps

These items can make all the difference in staying dry during a summer storm. A tent or tarp provides protection from water damage and the sun, which is imperative during heatwaves and heavy rains. Similarly, rain ponchos can be lifesaving for unsheltered homeless people trying to weather the storm.

3) Water

Brandi Spencer-Phoenix has been a mental health therapist for the past seven years and is a supervisor for Elwyn’s Philadelphia-based mobile crisis team. When dispatched, her unit makes the rounds, going wherever a crisis occurs. This means managing countless homeless and unstably housed individuals and families.

“I’ve worked with both kids and adults who faced homelessness, said Brandi. And one thing they all need in summer is water.

Brandi’s statement, while simple, echoes the sentiments of professionals we’ve previously asked, all of whom tend to agree that water is the most vital resource. Fortunately for housing advocates, it is relatively cheap, packaged, ready to go, and easily transported.

4) Travel Sized Toiletries

On the subject of perspiring, experts also recommend handing out deodorant and other toiletries like:

  • Dry shampoo
  • Toothbrushes
  • Toothpaste
  • Tampons
  • Combs
  • Brushes
  • Hand Sanitizers
  • Sanitary wipes
  • Lotions
  • Floss sticks
  • And other hygiene products

Baskets containing toiletries are a perfect way to donate to your unhoused neighbors during summer. Providing just a few items on the list can go a long way. Invisible People’s own Mark Horvath often hits the streets with travel-sized items from Target.

Target has the best selection of travel-sized items if you’re looking for ideas,” he explained.

5) First Aid Kits

Target’s travel section is a great place to find small $3 first aid kits that fit in the palm of your hand and are easy to transport to people in need. These kits are excellent for giving to individuals enduring unsheltered homelessness and groups residing in homeless encampments.

Did you know that homeless people are statistically more likely to get injured than people who are housed while also having less access to medical facilities? For this reason, a first aid kit could be the difference between a minor scrape or cut and a life-threatening infection.

6) Suntan Lotion

“I’ve even had several unhoused people ask me when I worked in a drug and alcohol facility for suntan lotion because that’s a good idea. They were trying to get jobs working in construction, and they were getting burned and things like that, Bruce Lockett explained, adding that hats, which happened to be the next item on the list, were also in high demand for similar reasons. “You don’t want to be working on a roof without a hat in the summertime.”

7) Hats and Weather-Appropriate Clothing

Dominique Riley, who spends a great deal of time working with children as a counselor on the mobile crisis team, said that weather-appropriate clothing is high up on the list of homeless children’s needs. “This is kind of touching my heart a little bit, but I see way too many homeless children whose clothing doesn’t match the season,” she explained.

8) Gas Cards, Metro Cards, and Other Items That Enhance Access to Transportation

This would be something that would be a good donation, Bruce Lockett said. “They have cards for bus passes now. So, purchasing a bus pass for somebody, for $10, $20, would help a lot. Getting back and forth to interviews and things like that is always an issue because of the lack of access to transportation. If they are homeless but have a vehicle, gas cards are useful, too.”

Crisis Counselor Dominique chimed in on the subject of public transportation, explaining that it is equally, if not even more necessary for homeless kids who still need to get back and forth to doctor’s appointments and education-related functions and who might have to spend time with social workers filling out paperwork to access financial aid.

“You cannot go wrong with a Metro card, she said.

9) Gift Cards to Coffee Shops

Housed people see coffee shops as a place to connect and enjoy the ambiance, but these caffeinated hubs are so much more for homeless people. A gift card to a coffee shop can mean having a refreshing drink, using the bathroom, charging a phone, and escaping the heat all in one sitting.

* Special Note About Gift Cards—Unless a person is enduring homelessness inside a running vehicle, they likely do not have access to transportation. If you decide to give out gift cards, be certain they are located in a place that’s within walking distance. As people in the service sector often say, it really is about meeting people right where they are.

10) Positive Attention

Even if you don’t have the time or money to donate, positive attention is always something you can give. Far too many of our neighbors without walls go whole days being ignored. Imagine the isolation of feeling utterly invisible on a hot city street in the sweltering sun. Take the time to share a smile or listen. This seemingly small gesture can change the world.

11) A Phone Call to Your Local Legislators Demanding More Humane Laws

Above are some budget-friendly ways to help your homeless neighbors bear the brunt of scorching summer weather, but even if you don’t have the money to donate, you can call your local legislators for free.

As the planet heats to record-breaking highs, and at a time of excess wealth and unparalleled technological advancement, there’s no reason anyone should ever have to live outside. Talk to your local lawmakers about making housing a human right and potentially cutting heat-related deaths in half by providing the one thing all homeless people need to beat the heat – permanent and affordable housing.

Cynthia Griffith

Cynthia Griffith


Cynthia Griffith is a freelance writer dedicated to social justice and environmental issues.

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