Saturday, December 4, 2010

Doc Gurley: Be selfish, give a gift to a homeless person

This is from San Francisco Gate, written by a physician:

What To Give:
1) Earning power is primo. One of the best possible presents is something that helps a homeless person earn some cash. Consider buying a harmonica, recorder, or sheet music for the a cappella singer who starts to sound hoarse by the end of rush hour. If your neighborhood, like one in Berkeley, has a street person who paints tiny abstracts on rocks to earn some bucks, a set of acrylics or a handful of Sharpies could be a life-saver. Finally, anyone who's ever had to dumpster-dive knows the value of some study work gloves, or a pair of fingerless mitts. But what if you don't know someone's talents? Never fear. You can still spontaneously give any homeless person a great present. Consider some of these types of gifts -
2) Hats, scarves and gloves. Any of these are heart-warming (literally) gifts, especially this time of year. Prices range anywhere from $9.99 or $4.99 for men's items at Target and Longs, to all of $1 at the (of course) Dollar General Store. Homeless people try to blend, because the streets are not a good place to attract attention. For that reason, choose gender neutral colors that won't show wear and tear so fast (navy, brown, black). And if you're giving any clothing item, it's nice to leave the tag in place. Lots of homeless people have gotten unfortunate cases of lice and scabies from accepting used articles, so it's reassuring to know, if you're the recipient, that what you're getting is new. Coats are really nice, but hard to hand out discreetly, and expensive to buy in quantity - but if you can provide them, go for it! Another lovely present is a pair of sweatpants. Sweatpants are both gender and size neutral. Buy men's large in dark colors, regardless of who you're gifting ($19.99 Target and other stores).
3) Rain gear. When considering a present for your typical street person, keep in mind the requirement that everything must be carried on your person at all times. For that reason, umbrellas are not often used on the street. Umbrellas, in general, are both too heavy and flimsy. However, the ultra-useful rain poncho ($3 and up at various stores) is both cheaper, and better as a gift.
4) Bags. Carrying everything you own is not easy, especially when almost all of it is packed in hand-creasing, thin white plastic bags. This year, due to the widespread interest in saving the environment through re-use, there's a fine selection of collapsible, sturdy bags at truly affordable prices. These make great gifts for the homeless. Almost every store has a branded reusable shopping bag for around $1 (Longs, Target, Trader Joe's) but my favorite is the Ikea large blue bag - it has a  set of wide, durable shoulder straps (key for carrying heavy items), plus a second, hand-length set of straps, is only $0.59, and it's made of the same weather-resistant material as blue tarp, which means it can also be used as an impromptu pup-tent if necessary.
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