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14 Gift Ideas for the Houseless Population

How You Can Help the Houseless Population With a Personal Touch

In an often uncaring world, it's vital that we reach out to each other. You can give to the houseless population indirectly (and you should if you want to) but giving and caring directly gives them something beyond price: human contact and recognition.

Perhaps the most painful part of homelessness for me was the isolation. At times I felt no one in the world saw me as a human being. While I have a hard time with eye contact myself, I noticed that no one met my eyes; they turned their heads and hurried along.

By giving directly to the houseless population, you give a gift of recognizing their humanity and improving their sense of dignity and self-esteem. The items listed may not be dramatically life-changing, but they can serve as an excuse to approach someone who needs your voice, someone who needs to know that someone cares.

Most of the gifts listed below are less than $10 each and many are less than a dollar. So for the cost of a fancy coffee, you can make a few lives a little better.

For your convenience, I've listed an online source for some items below their descriptions in case you don't have time to go out and shop for these small gifts.

1. Mylar Emergency Blankets

Mylar blankets make great gifts whether the weather is warm or cold. Mylar emergency blankets can keep in warmth better than any other available blanket of their size but they can also be turned around and used to keep the heat off.

Mylar blankets come folded up tight into neat, pocket-sized packets which is why they are perhaps the best blankets to get for people with very little space to store them.

Mylar blankets or Mylar sleeping bags make thoughtful gifts. They are often sold near camping equipment in sporting good stores.

While hand warmers or even the bigger warmers aren't enough to really keep a person warm they do provide a little extra comfort for cold hands.

While hand warmers or even the bigger warmers aren't enough to really keep a person warm they do provide a little extra comfort for cold hands.

2. Hand Warmers

Those little disposable hand warmers can provide warmth and comfort on cold days and nights. Even in warmer climates, the houseless population can get cold at night.

Disposable shoe warmers also make great gifts. Shoe warmers are usually found near hand warmers and other types of disposable heat packs. Heat packs like these can usually be found in sporting goods departments and sporting goods stores. They can also often be found in dollar stores. I took the picture of the hand warmer display in a dollar store.

photo by Kylyssa Shay

photo by Kylyssa Shay

3. Granola Bars, Energy Bars, Cookies, & Individually-Wrapped Snacks

Granola bars or energy bars are packed with calories and nutrients yet they are light and easy to carry, they taste good, and they don't spoil easily.

Granola bars make nice little gifts because it's easy to slip a handful of them into your pocket in case you run into someone who is unhoused. They are also almost universally appreciated because they won't spoil or make a mess in a person's pocket, backpack, or bag.

Unfortunately, many in the houseless population have problems with their teeth. So it's probably a good idea to also have some individually-wrapped snacks that are softer, like soft cookies, little cakes, or even individual cups of apple sauce with plastic spoons taped on top.

4. Bottled Water & Gatorade

In the summer, most houseless people can't get out of the heat, so gifts like bottled water or Gatorade can help them to avoid heatstroke. If you put the bottles in your freezer overnight, they'll provide even more cooling power.

5. Moist Towelettes

It's really, really hard to stay clean when you don't have a bathroom of your own. Moist towelettes can help someone feel cleaner when no access to running water is available. I've found that moist towelettes are good for quickly dealing with stains on clothing before they set.

photo by Kylyssa Shay

photo by Kylyssa Shay

6. Hats

A lot of heat can be lost through an uncovered head in cold weather. Hats are probably the single most effective item of clothing to keep a person warmer.

You can buy cheap knit hats at most discount stores such as Family Dollar, Big Lots, and Dollar General. The ones in the photo were at Dollar Tree for just one dollar each.

Knit hats make great gifts even during warmer weather because they can also help keep hair cleaner when sleeping outside as well as keeping heads warmer in the cold.

photo by Kylyssa Shay

photo by Kylyssa Shay

7. Gloves

Gloves can keep hands warm in cold weather and at night in warmer weather.

You can often find those stretchy, one-size-fits-all gloves at dollar and discount stores for about a dollar in many dollar and discount stores.

One size fits most stretchy gloves are a good choice because they, well, fit most.

8. Dental Care Items

It's hard to keep up with dental hygiene when you are houseless, so a toothbrush and a sample-sized tube of toothpaste make another great, compact gift.

You can find these items at big box stores like Target and Walmart, in dollar stores, and in drug stores, often in the sample size aisle. These items usually cost under a dollar.

9. Compact First Aid Kits

A compact basic first aid kit would be welcomed by many houseless people.

photo by Kylyssa Shay

photo by Kylyssa Shay

10. Combs

Combs are one of the easiest small gifts to find and carry. They are also easy to lose so replacements are often very welcome. They are durable and take up very little space.

You can get a big package of combs for just a few dollars at most discount stores. You can also find them in dollar stores and big box stores.

The Basic Black Comb

If you ever had school pictures as a child, you ought to recognize these. The basic black plastic comb is still the easiest to carry, most compact hair grooming tool.

11. Canteens

It can be hard to find a drinking fountain every single time you need a drink. A canteen can provide a way to carry a good supply of water around easily. Regular water bottles are good, too, but they are not as easy to carry if one is carrying all of his or her possessions around, too.

Canteens are harder to find than many of the other items on this page but they make wonderful gifts. You can find them online and in military surplus stores. Also, they can sometimes be found in the sporting goods departments of department stores.

I like the military or Boy Scout-styled canteens that are covered in fabric and have a strong carrying strap.

Basic, old-fashioned canteens work very well for people who walk around a lot and have limited access to drinking water.

12. Drink Mix Packets

Houseless people can usually get access to water but water can get boring sometimes. Drink mixes such as hot cocoa envelopes or fruit-flavored drinks also provide calories and sometimes other nutrients. Instant breakfast packets (the ones that don't take milk) are really great because they provide a meal as well as a beverage that is a treat. It's easy to carry a few in your purse or pocket in case you run into someone who might like some.

photo by Kylyssa Shay

photo by Kylyssa Shay

13. Hand Sanitizer

Hand sanitizer, used properly may kill the flu virus and prevent the spread of germs.

Purse-sized sanitizer gel is another cheap and easy gift to carry around. I also like the individual packets of hand sanitizer or wipes impregnated with hand sanitizer as they won't leak as easily or as much fluid if they do.

Sanitizer for Better Hygiene

Hand sanitizer is good to have around when access to running water and soap is not always a given.

14. Sewing Kits

When your resources are limited, a sewing kit can help keep clothing in good repair. Sewing kits make very practical gifts and are both very portable and very inexpensive. I strongly recommend the kind that comes in sturdy, reusable cases.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.