May 11, 2016 3:21 pm

Take your sh*t to Goodwill: Why homeless shelters don’t want your stuff

Hannah Litvin sets the record straight on which organizations are happy to take secondhand furniture — and which are not.

Drop off your stuff here, not there.

(Photo by Flickr user Mike Mozart, used under a Creative Commons license)

Spring cleaning, the big move, home renovations, the gift registry — whatever the case, there’s probably been a time in your life when you wanted to get rid of a bunch of stuff that still had some life in it.

So you call up a homeless shelter to arrange a great big donation for one of the many people who must be moving to permanent housing. That happens all the time, right? But no — shelters aren’t taking your stuff.

Some people get indignant — “It’s in such great condition!”

Others gracefully accept being told, “No.”

I manage in-kind donations at a large homeless shelter and supportive-housing organization, and here is the deal: We probably don’t have room to store all the donations we receive.

If we accepted all the more- and lesser-used appliances, furniture, linens and dishes — “for when people move out” — we wouldn’t have room for all the hygiene products and gently used clothing and shoes we need in stock for residents’ everyday wear and professional attire for interviews and appointments.

In reality, so many organizations and advocacy groups already help furnish the apartments of veterans and those re-entering independent living — often with brand-new items provided by corporations with tax incentives to give.

When it comes time, there are two helpful ways to get rid of your stuff.

  1. Call a few homeless shelters or supportive housing organizations. Some organizations can accept those donations. Check their websites and call ahead of time to make arrangements. Be gracious if they can’t accept the donation.
  2. Or, and this is my favorite, donate your items to a secondhand store. Secondhand stores build communities up. Goodwill provides employment assistance to people in need. Philly AIDS Thrift offers free rapid HIV testing, and over $100K of grant support to community nonprofits. Most secondhand stores will offer you a receipt for your taxes, so you can deduct the value of your donation on your taxes.

It’s important to give to the homeless, but consider this: 

From our Partners

A recent survey suggests that 63 percent of Americans are one paycheck away from homelessness. Every day, you share a sidewalk, elevator or bus with hundreds of people who could be $200 away from an eviction notice.

Every week, I see posts on — a forum for offering and soliciting unwanted stuff — from families who need a microwave, or toys or a bed for their kids, and from individuals who want to give away a couch, a toaster, or bicycle.

When I moved to Philadelphia in 2014, I had no job, no safety net of friends and family, and only a few hundred dollars to my name. I found an unfurnished apartment I could rent by the month, and I started looking for work. I slept on the floor for a while.

If it hadn’t been for the strong culture of reuse in Philadelphia, I would not have been able to afford dishes AND food. I went to a secondhand store and spent a grand total of $20 on all the kitchen things I needed. 

Now that my position in life is improved, I find myself with lots of things I no longer need. I don’t even think twice about donating them to the secondhand store. I know there are lots of people who rely on second-hand stores and services like Freecycle to live. In a thrift shop, my unwanted things can make it a little easier for a struggling family to make ends meet. Your unwanted stuff could help a person start over from nothing.

That means everything.

It is more impactful to contribute to a culture in your city that prevents deep poverty. Do it regularly. You may not get the feeling you’re saving the homeless, but you’re helping to build a better city with a stronger middle class.


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