The grim reality of homelessness is something we’re faced with nearly every day in Philadelphia—on the streets, in the subways and in our parks.
The City of Philadelphia Office of Homeless Services reports that there are 5,700 individuals experiencing homelessness and 950 considered unsheltered in Philly—a low number compared to most large cities in the United States, but deeply troubling, nonetheless.
The need to lend a hand to those experiencing homelessness in this city is ever-present, especially as we inch toward the colder months.
So what can we do to help the homeless in Philadelphia? Fortunately, the options are endless here—whether you want to donate to a local shelter, download an app that helps you provide goods to those in need or volunteer to help build affordable housing for those who need it most.
Keep reading to find a host of ideas about how to help the homeless in Philly and support the people, businesses and organizations that are working hard to squash the epidemic.
How to help the homeless in Philadelphia
1. Make a call
If you see a homeless person out in the cold, or if you know someone in your community who is homeless, contact the 24-hour Project HOME Homeless Outreach Hotline at 215-232-1984.
2. Utilize technology
You can download a couple Philly-based apps that were created to help homeless people in Philadelphia. With Donafy you can instantly alert local service providers of a homeless or hungry person’s location, or make immediate contributions of as little as $1 through PayPal to area homeless outreach programs. StreetChange keeps a real-time database of what homeless people in your area need, so you can donate socks, coats, hygiene products and more with the tap of a button.
3. Donate everyday essentials
If giving through an app isn’t your jam but you like the thought of donating everyday essentials like socks, feminine hygiene products, bras and underwear, then check out Pheed Philly, which uses donations to build care packages for those experiencing homelessness in Philadelphia. Contact the organization through its website to see what’s needed.
4. Give time instead of money or goods
Volunteer at an organization that provides shelter to homeless people in Philadelphia, like Broad Street Ministry, Morris Home or the Bethesda Project. There are dozens more sites across the city, many of which are listed here. Donafy also provides a list of over 100 organizations, which can be viewed in a handy map on the app.
5. Put in some elbow grease
Set aside some time on weekends or days off to help increase the amount of affordable housing in Philadelphia. You can literally help build or renovate homes via programs like Rebuilding Together Philadelphia (above), Habitat for Humanity and the Healthy Rowhouse Project, all of which are always looking for volunteers.
6. Eat at local restaurants that help the homeless
Several Philly-owned restaurants and bars are doing their part to help the homeless in Philadelphia—by either donating food or a percentage of profits to local homeless outreach programs. The brand new brewery Triple Bottom Brewing, for instance, works with local homeless organizations like Project HOME to help the formerly homeless find employment. Find a list of other do-gooder restaurants and bars here.
7. Use your own business for good
Own a company and need good, dependable help? Philadelphia employment agency First Step Staffing provides well-trained, dedicated, on-time employees who are working toward self-sufficiency. In its first year in the city, First Step employed 2,664 people, 58 percent of whom were recently homeless, formerly incarcerated, veterans, or a combination of these—and paid out $14.5 million in wages.
8. Join a group working to ease the burdens of homeless people
There are tons of grassroots groups in Philadelphia that are working to provide everyday essentials to the homeless in Philadelphia, including D.O.P.E (Doing Our Part Eclectically), which regularly sets up tables to feed the homeless at Thomas Paine Park; DonCARES hosts regular events, like delivering water bottles to homeless people throughout the city; on the first Sunday of each month, the peddlers of PMA Bike Ride hit the road to deliver pizza to the homeless; and Distributing Dignity provides women in need with bras and other goods that often go overlooked. Check out our articles about how to help the homeless for more ideas for groups to get involved with.
9. Learn more about homelessness
Donating and volunteering are excellent ways to help the homeless in Philadelphia, but it also helps to actually understand what causes the problem in the first place. Broke in Philly is a great resource for when you’re wanting to learn more about the people who are most in need in Philly. The collaborative reporting project works with 20 media outlets—including The Citizen—to support journalism about solutions to poverty and the city’s push toward economic justice. Follow them to stay abreast of the reporting they’re doing.
10. Donate to thrift stores
Unload no-longer-needed clothing and goods—especially warm-weather wear—to the Goodwill or Salvation Army, or, even better, to local thrift stores like Second Mile, Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission or Camouflage Rhino Thrift Store. These organizations provide job experience and income to those looking to get back on their feet. Plus, they’re an excellent resource for those on a limited budget who are looking for affordable clothing options.
11. Help break the cycle
For something a little more hands-on, Project HOME is a one-stop-shop for all issues facing homeless people in Philadelphia. The nonprofit has a section on its website that’s devoted entirely to taking action—through donations and otherwise. Visitors can purchase artisanal products created by Project HOME residents, find volunteer opportunities and learn how to advocate for the unique issues faced by the homeless.
12. Buy a One Step Away paper every once in awhile
The folks selling One Step Away magazines for $1 get to keep 75 cents; the rest goes toward printing costs. It’s a way for people on the street or experiencing joblessness to earn some scratch while working. Even better? The publication is produced and written by those in Philadelphia’s shelter system.
13. Contact your elected officials
Tell the politicians in Philadelphia that we need more supportive housing and more beds for those experiencing homelessness. Our current supply is not nearly enough to meet the demand. Find out how to contact your elected officials here.
14. Boost your donation
Ask about a donation-matching program at your company. It’s a super easy way to double or even triple your givings.
15. Let them know that they're seen
When you see a homeless person, acknowledge them, even if it’s just to say, “Hello” or even, “Sorry, but I can’t help you today.” It’s a small thing, but it can help them avoid feeling invisible.