By Julie Showers
“When I was homeless I remember receiving clothes and asking, ‘Do you have something nicer?” recalls Sara Edmond, the Morning Services Coordinator at Blanchet House of Hospitality.
Edmond accepts all manner of clothing and household items from well-meaning donors in her role. She directs volunteers to sort the items, determines what can be offered to Blanchet’s mostly unhoused guests, and then discards or shares with partner organizations. Some days the pile of unwearable or inappropriate clothing looms large.
People experiencing homelessness have a nearly daily need for clean and protective clothing because they cannot access laundry services or get a break from the outdoor elements. While the need for clothes and sleeping essentials is urgent people still want to look good and maintain their self-respect. And organizations like Blanchet House want to give while helping to empower people.
Edmond understands the importance of feeling valued by being offered nice clothes because she herself experienced homelessness.
“I feel like people don’t see homeless people like they are regular people,” she says. “They already feel not worthy. They are already judged. There is already a stigma there. They are as deserving of something nice to wear and something good to eat like everyone else.”
[The homeless] are as deserving of something nice to wear and something good to eat like everyone else.” –Sara Edmond
People donate to charities because they want to help others in need. While donating clothing is well-intentioned, it’s important to consider if you are giving the gifts to serve the community, or because you want to get rid of trash. Just because someone is staying in a tent doesn’t mean that they don’t want to look good.
“Whenever you are in doubt, apply the following test. Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man whom you may have seen and ask yourself if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him,” Gandhi wrote of helping the poor.
If you want to empower people struggling without housing to take the steps needed to secure it then we must treat them as equals. That means giving them food and clothing of value.
Being offered dirty or stained clothing can feel humiliating. We all know the embarrassment of wearing a stained shirt, pants with unintentional rips, or dirty shoes. There is a term for the phenomenon of clothing affecting our emotions–“enclothed cognition.” For those experiencing homelessness, the worse the clothes you wear the worse you feel, making it difficult to maintain hope for a better life.
“I always tried to dress nice when I was homeless,” says Jordan Shahrazi, a resident building sobriety, and stability at Blanchet Farm. “That was important to me. To look clean.”
Increased self-esteem that comes from wearing clean and good-looking clothes can help to open the doors to employment and housing opportunities.
“Last year a man came back to tell us that he wore clothes we gave him to a job interview and he got the job,” recalls Scott Kerman, Blanchet House’s Executive Director. “He wanted us to know that the clothes not only made him look better but feel better about himself during the interview.”
There are many reasons shelters cannot accept all of the items you’d like to donate such as not having a place to store them and the staff to sort them. If you want to find other places to give your unwanted items try these:
- Facebook Groups
The path to a healthier and productive life can start with a fresh change of clothes.