Take a walk, ride or drive through just about any neighborhood in Philadelphia, from high-income Center City to opioid-riddled Kensington, and you’ll likely encounter one or more of the estimated 4,302 Philadelphians (as of 2021) currently experiencing homelessness.
That number follows a promising downward trajectory since the City began taking part in its annual, nationwide Point-in-Time (PIT) Count each winter. Nonetheless, the count leaves out people staying in unregulated conditions such as abandoned dwellings, or living out of vehicles — or just out of view of the good people doing the counting.
Fortunately, there’s quite a bit that we as citizens can do — right now — to help Philadelphians experiencing homelessness. Here are 15 ways.
How to help Philadelphians experiencing homelessness
1. MAKE A CALL
Are you concerned about your own housing stability? Contact the City’s 24-hour Homeless Outreach hotline, which connects you to City organizations in addition to nonprofits such as Project HOME at (215) 232-1984.
The City posts easy-to-follow directions on getting help on their website. As does Project HOME: Their “Where To Turn” guide specifically points people experiencing homelessness to the best places for help in any number of situations — the guide can also be helpful for concerned citizens as well.
Are you concerned about someone else? The City of Philadelphia Office of Homeless Services also operates a hotline for people looking to help other citizens experiencing homelessness. That number is (215) 686-7177.
2. DONATE CASH — AND BOOST YOUR DONATION
Pheed Philly, for example, uses dollar-based donations to build care packages for those experiencing homelessness in Philadelphia.
While you’re at it, boost your donation with a workplace-based donation-matching program. If there’s one in place, that’s a painless way to double or triple your giving.
And while you’re at it, ask about a donation-matching program at your company. If there’s a program in place, that’s a painless way to double or even triple your giving.
3. DONATE EVERYDAY ESSENTIALS
If you prefer to donate in-kind, you can also contact Pheed Philly who will give you a list of items to help build care packages for those experiencing homelessness in Philadelphia.
Another place that collects everyday goods to redistribute is the Bethesda Project, which offers shelter and services for people in need: Here’s their list of needs as of summer 2022.
You might also check Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission, which also posts an ongoing list of needs, or People’s Emergency Center, where there’s a need for disposable masks, hand sanitizer, diapers, cleaning items and personal hygiene products. (Note: They’ve also already set up an Amazon Wishlist as well as helpful guides and guidelines for holiday gift donations.)
People experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity are often in need of these items:
- Travel-size drugstore items such as: soap, shampoo and conditioner, deodorant, hand sanitizer, body wipes, moisturizer / lotion, including foot-healing cream, tissues, toothpaste
- Jeans, especially men’s
- Shoes, especially men’s
- Socks, especially men’s
- Underwear and bras
- Bottled water
- Power or snack bars
- Raingear (rain boots, tarps, raincoats)
- SEPTA passes
Organizations rely on volunteers to do all kinds of work — and it’s a great way to get involved without writing a check or donating anything but your time! Following the pandemic, volunteering may look a little different than in non-pandemic times, but there are still countless ways to get involved.
Bethesda Project, for instance, offers online and offsite options to volunteer, such as making activity kits for residents, hosting virtual BINGO, or serving as a courier for goods between locations. Depending on your comfort level with Covid, there are ways to volunteer virtually, or individually.
For any in-person volunteer experience, be prepared to wear a mask onsite at all times.
Other groups, like Broad Street Ministry, Valley Youth House, Project HOME and Morris Home, offer a range of volunteer opportunities (Mail-sorting! Mentoring! Personal shopping! Mask-making! And more!).
There are also dozens of homeless shelters in Philadelphia. Visit their websites or call to find out what their volunteer needs are at this moment.
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 help build or renovate homes via programs like, say, Habitat for Humanity (Habitat Philly CEO Corrine O’Connell writes in the Citizen about making housing more affordable) and Rebuilding Together Philadelphia (here’s a Citizen story about Rebuilding). Both organizations provide opportunities to get involved as much or as little as you want, through multiple or one-time volunteer opportunities.
6. SUPPORT LOCAL RESTAURANTS THAT SUPPORT HOMELESS AND HUNGRY CITIZENS
Many Philly-owned restaurants and bars go out of their way to help the homeless in Philadelphia. Triple Bottom Brewing in Spring Garden, for instance, works with local organizations like Project HOME to help people who are formerly homeless find employment.
At Brewerytown’s Spot Burger, owner Josh Kim makes sure anyone who needs a meal gets one. You can pay it forward, too, not just by eating at Spot Burger but also by Venmo’ing cash.
Eater Philadelphia has a list of restaurants that give to organizations fighting homelessness in Philly — from raising money, to donating food, to collecting coats. It’s easy — if you are able — to support these restaurants which then in turn support the community.
7. HELP LOCALS WHO HELPING ALREADY
It’s part of the Citizen’s mission to cover local folks who are doing their part in unique ways to help support Philadelphians experiencing housing insecurity.
There’s Joshua Santiago, whose nonprofit Empowering Cuts has given more than 8,000 free haircuts to people living on the street — serving up not just style, but dignity. You can support Empowering Cuts by donating via their website.
Columnist Ronnie Polaneczky dug deep into Pathways to Housing PA, a Housing First organization that eliminates prerequisites in order to offer housing without barriers to people who would like places of their own.
The volunteer peanut butter and jelly brigade Welcome Bread, an affiliate of the Welcome Church, has fed thousands of people throughout the region, with delicious and bone-sticking PB&Js. The Welcome Church relies on donations to support their programming — including Welcome Bread.
You can check out other citizens that are doing their part to better the city of Philadelphia here.
8. USE YOUR OWN BUSINESS FOR GOOD
Own a company and need good, dependable help?
Employment agency First Step Staffing provides well-trained jobseekers — many from vulnerable populations — to local employers. Atlanta-based First Step debuted in Philly in 2018. Since then, the program has employed 3,410 people, 63 percent of whom were recently homeless, formerly incarcerated, veterans, or some combination of these.
9. SUPPORT GRASSROOTS ORGANIZATIONS
There are tons of grassroots groups in Philly 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 homeless citizens at Thomas Paine Park. D.O.P.E. also offers other programs such, as free haircuts.
On the first Sunday of each month, the peddlers of PMA Bike Ride hit the road to deliver pizza. While Distributing Dignity provides women in need with bras and feminine hygiene products — which often go overlooked in collections of essential needs.
Check out our collection of articles about how to help homeless Philadelphians for more ideas of groups to join or get involved with.
10. DONATE TO THRIFT STORES
As we noted above, you can always donate gently used clothing and goods to homeless shelters in and other organizations that look to redistribute high-quality essentials to people in need. But you can also unload some things that you own but don’t use — especially cold-weather gear — to the Goodwill or Salvation Army, Philly AIDS Thrift, or, Second Mile, which provides job experience and income to those who might struggle to access the job market because of homelessness or past incarcerationM
(These places are a great resource for citizens on a limited budget looking for affordable clothing options — and reuse is always the environmentally-friendly way to go.)
11. PICK UP A COPY OF ONE STEP AWAY
The folks you see on Philly sidewalks selling One Step Away — a publication written and produced by Philadelphians inside the city’s homeless shelter system — keep 75 cents of the $1 paper for themselves. (The other 25 cents goes toward printing costs.)
It’s a way for people without homes and/or experiencing joblessness to earn some scratch while working. One Step Away vendors are located all throughout the city.
12. BUY A CANDLE. OR A MUG. OR A GIFT BOX.
One of the many, many options Project HOME offers as a way to put a dent in homelessness is by shopping their little online store. It’s full of lovely artisanal products created by Project HOME residents, products that create employment opportunities within the organization.
13. LEARN MORE ABOUT HOMELESSNESS
Donating and volunteering are obviously effective ways to help address homelessness in Philadelphia, but it’s also useful to understand the circumstances that often lead to problems. Broke in Philly is a collaborative reporting project that 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 read more about homelessness, the citizens affected by housing insecurity, and solutions.
Consider checking out this helpful infographic, which helps to explain the factors that lead to homelessness — and ways that anyone can help. UnitedWay also outlines ways parents can talk to their kids about homelessness.
Follow them to read more about homelessness, the citizens affected by it and ways to combat it.
14. CONTACT YOUR ELECTED OFFICIALS
Tell the politicians in Philadelphia that we need more supportive housing, more beds for those experiencing homelessness, and more effective avenues for dealing with housing insecurity and paths toward homes for everyone. Find out how to contact your elected officials here. You can also visit Project HOME’s advocacy page to see how you can support efforts already underway.
15. LET PEOPLE KNOW THAT THEY’RE SEEN
Acknowledging our fellow citizens who are experiencing homelessness, even if it’s just to say hello or even an “I’m sorry, but I can’t help today,” is a small but important thing, particularly to someone who might otherwise feel invisible.Via Pxhere