Small Things That Can Make A Huge Difference For The Homeless Population In Your Area

According to EarthWeb's latest 2023 report, there are over 326,000 people living in transitional housing and homeless shelters in the United States. That figure doesn't include the number of unsheltered people, which has not been counted. Evidently, homelessness is a major issue across the country, and affects men and women of all ages. 


Unfortunately, there isn't enough transitional housing or shelters to accommodate the entire homeless population, leaving many people on the streets. More often than not, those individuals who attempt to solicit spare change or other goods are ignored or overlooked. It's a sad situation, but you can help.

Most people don't realize they can make a huge difference for the homeless population in the tiniest ways. These small acts of kindness are known as micro-gestures — daily tasks or interactions that have a significant effect on a person, place, or thing. These actions may seem insignificant to you, but to someone living on the streets, micro-gestures can have a huge impact. 

Keep water bottles and snacks on hand

No matter where you live or what the climate is, staying hydrated is an absolute must. Unfortunately, for homeless people, drinking water isn't always easy to obtain. Despite what you might think, it isn't illegal to turn down someone who asks for a free glass of water. The only exception to this rule is when an establishment holds a liquor license, per Food24. This is why it's a great idea to keep bottles of water in your car, especially when the sun is out and temperatures are high.


In addition to the water bottles, it's a nice gesture to offer someone a snack as well. Bags of chips or pretzels are fine, but they aren't feasible for everyone. The majority of the homeless population, specifically older adults, do not have access to proper dental care, and are left with significant dental issues, according to St. Vincent de Paul Village. Because of this, it's a good idea to keep snacks that anyone can eat comfortably, such as oranges or soft granola bars.

Offer to buy them a coffee

If you're unsure how to help the homeless population in your area, there's a super easy way to do so, and it won't cost you more than a couple of dollars. Buy them a cup of coffee! The average cost of a small black coffee at Starbucks was about $2.75 in 2022, per The Commons Cafe. This small act of kindness shows the person you care about them and their wellbeing. If they aren't a coffee drinker, ask if they would like tea or hot chocolate! A hot drink in freezing cold temperatures is a lifesaver for an individual without shelter. 


You don't need to make it a grand ordeal when you offer to buy them a hot beverage. Just simply ask if they would like anything from the coffee shop while you're inside — it's the same as asking a friend or family member. It's small things like this that completely change a person's day. 

Have small bills on hand

By keeping small bills on you, you're prepared to help out homeless individuals you run into while you're out. Now, you don't have to frantically rummage through your bag or wallet looking for change, only to come out empty-handed. Having ones and fives on your person really comes in handy if you happen upon someone near a gas station, convenience store, or restaurant. It makes it much easier for the homeless to get something to eat or drink — they don't have to scour the city looking for an establishment.


In the event you left your cash at home — or you aren't comfortable giving money away — you can still find other ways to assist. First and foremost, be polite above anything else. If you're unable to give them cash, ask if there is anything else you can do to help, HuffPost advises. Perhaps, you can buy them a coffee like we mentioned earlier, or maybe they could really use a hot meal. Take some time to chat with them and figure out the best solution.

Direct them to a nearby shelter

Perhaps, you don't feel comfortable spending money on someone else, or maybe you don't have the means to do so. No matter the case, it's completely okay to say no (in a nice way). You can still help the homeless population without spending a dime by directing an individual to the nearest homeless shelter. If you need assistance locating one, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has a Find Shelter tool created to find shelters, food pantries, health clinics, and clothing donations in your area.


Someone who is homeless may have no idea any of these places exist, so not only are you offering an act of kindness, but you're providing them with somewhere safe to go in the future. To ensure the safety of yourself and others, refrain from walking or driving the individual to the shelter. Instead, offer to get them a rideshare or cab, or simply give them money for a bus fare. 

Donate to your local food pantry

Another way you can help out is by stopping by your local food pantry to deliver non-perishable items. Some examples include canned soup, peanut butter, granola bars, pancake mix, and much more. You want to avoid donating anything that needs refrigeration or has a short shelf-life, otherwise the food will expire before anyone has the chance to eat it, and it ends up in the trash, Feeding America explains. To see a full list of non-perishable food items, check out this one provided by The Inn. Feel free to call the food pantry beforehand to ask which items they need most.


If you have time on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, consider volunteering with a food pantry or a local shelter. You could help with the donation drop off, or assist with serving hot meals. Again, it might just seem like you're organizing cans and handing out soup, but it makes a huge difference to those in need. 

Take the time to say hello

Above all else, the smallest thing you can do that makes the world of a difference for the homeless population is talk to them. Homeless people face rejection on a daily basis, and many go unacknowledged. The majority of the general population aren't interested in speaking to someone panhandling because they don't want to give out money, and oftentimes, they won't even look in their direction. Some are even afraid to talk to the homeless population because they feel they're in danger, the National Coalition for the Homeless states. Therefore, the panhandler is ignored. 


The next time you see a person out on the street, take a moment to say hello and flash them a smile. A friendly face does more good than you'll ever know, especially to someone who isn't greeted with one very often. Chances are they just want someone to talk to, or perhaps, they need a listening ear.