As the winter months set in, it’s impossible not to think about the estimated 5,634 Philadelphians who are experiencing homelessness.
That number is actually a slight improvement from what we’ve seen in years past … but 2020 has nevertheless been a fraught year in our city in terms of both homelessness and the best way to address it.
To wit: There’s the link between homelessness and an opioid crisis. There’s the handful of Center City encampments (and the housing plans that eventually emerged as partial solution to the issues that helped spur the encampments. There’s the pandemic, which has made everything harder for the people without homes and for the city trying to help them.
Fortunately, there’s quite a bit that we as citizens can do—right now—to help Philadelphians experiencing homelessness, from hitting up Amazon to downloading the right app to literally helping build homes for people … and much more.
Here, more than a dozen ideas for how to get involved in the work of ending homelessness in our city.
How to help homeless Philadelphians
1. Make a call
If you’re concerned about a person living on the streets or stuck 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. Project HOME also offers a helpful “Where To Turn During Covid-19” guide, specifically designed to point people experiencing homelessness to the best places for help in any number of situations.
2. Donate everyday essentials
If giving through an app isn’t your jam, but you like the thought of donating everyday essentials (think 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.
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.)
3. Or donate cash and then boost your donation
Money, as they say, makes the world go round: That’s especially true in the nonprofit world. 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. And don’t forget: The CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act means you get a one-time $300 deduction for qualified charitable contributions.
4. Give your time by volunteering
Even in Covid-19 times, you can still volunteer at some of the organizations that provide shelter, meals, housing and other services for people experiencing homelessness … though it might look a little different than volunteering does in non-pandemic times.
At Bethesda Project, for instance, Covid has sidelined much in-person volunteering, but the nonprofit still offers online and offsite options like making activity kits for residents, or serving as a courier for goods between locations.
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!). There are also dozens of homeless shelters in Philadelphia, many of which are listed here—you can call to see what the 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 literally help build or renovate homes via programs like, say, Habitat for Humanity and Rebuilding Together Philadelphia, the latter of which has paused its large-group project in consideration of Covid-19 safety, but is planning to schedule small projects soon.
6. Support local restaurants that help 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, where owner Josh Kim makes sure anyone who needs a meal gets one, you can pay it forward not just by supporting him with your business, but by Venmo’ing cash.
There’s also a long list of eateries that are currently contributing to Step Up to The Plate program (a collaboration between Broad Street Ministry, Project HOME, SEAMAAC, and Prevention Point Philadelphia), which feeds some 2,500 people a day with food prepared by our city’s chefs and caterers from DiBrunos, Dig, Barbuzzo, 12th Street Catering, Goldie Falafel, Cheu Noodle Bar, Pizzeria Beddia and more.
7. Use your own business for good
Own a company and need good, dependable help? Philadelphia employment agency First Step Staffing provides well-trained jobseekers—many from vulnerable populations—to local employers. The Atlanta-based First Step debuted in Philly in 2018; over the course of its first year, the program employed 2,664 people, 58 percent of whom were recently homeless, formerly incarcerated, veterans, or some combination of these—and paid out $14.5 million in wages.
8. Be a Joiner
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.
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.
9. Learn more about homelessness
Donating and volunteering are obviously good, effective ways to help address homelessness in Philadelphia, but it’s also useful to understand the circumstances that often lead to problem. 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 it and ways to combat it.
10. Donate to thrift stores
As we noted above, you can always donate gently used clothing and goods to homeless shelters in Philadelphia, 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, or, even better, to Second Mile, which provides job experience and income to those who might struggle to access the job market because of homelessness or past incarceration.
(Also, of course, these places are a great resource for citizens on a limited budget looking for affordable clothing options.)
11. Buy a Candle. Or a Mug. Or a Gift Box
One of the many, many options Project HOME offers up as a way to put a dent in our homelessness problem is by shopping their little online store: You can purchase any of the lovely artisanal products created by Project HOME residents, thereby creating employment opportunities within the organization.
12. Say “yes” to a One Step Away paper
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.
13. 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.
14. 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.