Beyond the Basics
Henley Brock Moon
2 June 2021
When concerned about people experiencing homeless, most people consider the most basic needs and stop there. While it’s true that people experiencing homelessness need help finding shelter, food, water, and clothes, their needs go far beyond that. They also need that which employed and housed people seek—things like confidence, belonging, and purpose. The general population may fail to identify these concepts as issues for homeless people, and that may be because they fail to see them as people. Shelters and organizations cannot give people experiencing homelessness their most basic needs and expect them to recover. People experiencing homelessness require support to meet all their needs, even if each individual finds their own way to fulfill them.
Although cash is the best thing someone can donate to a shelter or other non-profit organization, there are people experiencing homelessness beyond the reach of these institutions. If you know of anyone like that and want to help them, you may consider a more direct donation. John Lingan at The Right to Shower offers a list of important gifts that people experiencing homelessness could make use of. Some items seem obvious, like food and socks—things they need just to survive. Other items, like pet food and raingear, may seem less necessary. However, these items help them do more than just survive. Anyone with a pet understands the need to feed them, and anyone who works outside understands the need to keep themselves and their belongings dry. People experiencing homelessness should also be allowed to keep their four-legged friends, who may be the last friends they have, happy and fed. They also deserve to keep themselves and their precious belongings safe from the rain, especially on cold nights that they have to spend outside. Lingan finishes the gift suggestions with compassion. They write, “small acts and minor gifts, whether brief conversations or books, can be intensely meaningful for anyone who feels pushed to the margins.” For a person that has been forgotten and ignored by so many, kindness is as welcome and as necessary a gift as food, socks, or even money.
We should look beyond just the most basic needs of people experiencing homelessness. Natalie Conway of the Blanchet House claims that their organization supports people experiencing homelessness find fulfillment and purpose. In addition to basic necessities like food and shelter, they provide security, a welcoming community, and meaningful work. These layers of needs build on top of each other to allow people experiencing homelessness to reach their full potential in whatever way suits them best. However, few people have the connections, resources, and facilities to provide such comprehensive support to people experiencing homelessness. Shirley Raines, one person determined to help those she can however she can, grouped together volunteers to create Beauty 2 The Streetz. According to CNN’s Alicia Lee, Beauty 2 The Streetz transformed Skid Row into a beauty salon each Saturday to provide free haircuts and makeovers. Raines believes that every person experiencing homelessness has the right to be beautiful. These makeovers not only provide people experiencing homelessness a much-needed human interaction, but has also provided the look some have needed to snag a job and turn their life around.
Although the pandemic has put a stop to the salon effort for now, the Beauty 2 The Streetz TikTok shows Raines providing custom care packages out of their car. Whether filling up a known sweet-tooth’s bag with candy and honey buns or insisting someone stay despite friction between them and a volunteer, she provides a human connection to those too used to indifference.
People experiencing homelessness need help. They need food, water, shelter, and clothes. However, they just as importantly need to be treated like humans. They need consistency in meeting their basic needs, confidence as people, compassionate connection with their fellow person, and some form of purpose. Even if you do not have the money and facilities to change lives, you can still manage to make someone’s day by offering them a friendly word and a minute of your day, like you would a friend.
Conway, Natalie. “From Survive to Thrive: Maslow’s 5 Levels of Human Need.” Blanchet House. Accessed on 1 June 2021, https://blanchethouse.org/5-levels-of-human-needs/.
Lee, Alicia. “This Woman Is Beautifying Skid Row One Makeover at a Time. And Not Even the Pandemic Can Stop Her from Helping the Homeless.” CNN, 30 August 2020, https://www.cnn.com/2020/08/30/us/skid-row-makeover-homeless-beauty-2-the-streetz-trnd/index.html.
Lingan, John. “What Do People Experiencing Homelessness Need Most Besides Shelter?” The Right to Shower, Unilever, Accessed on 1 June 2021, https://www.therighttoshower.com/make-difference/what-do-people-experiencing-homelessness-need-most-besides-shelter