When you’re living outside and sleeping on the streets, clothes can be one of the most important necessities you’ll need to survive. You may also need nicer clothing at some point so that you can wear it to job interviews and hopefully get back on your feet and make money again.
Finding places that offer free clothes to the homeless shouldn’t be too difficult if you’re in a large city, but some people live in small rural areas or simply don’t know where they should go first.
During the time when I was homeless and living on the streets a few years ago, I often wore the same t-shirt and blue jeans several days out of the week and preferred to keep only a few articles of clothing on me so my bag wasn’t too heavy when walking with it.
But every now and then, I did have to re-up and pick up a new jacket or an extra pair of pants when the weather got colder outside. So I decided to make the following guide on places where you can go in order to get free clothing when you need it.
Homeless Shelters and Rescue Missions
The first place you should probably check for clothes donations is all the local shelters and any rescue missions in your area. While The Salvation Army is the most known organization to offer both clothing and shelter in many cities, there’s countless other places that offer the same.
It’s common for shelters to have a separate building on their property that is set up like a store, with clothing hanging by hangers on racks. You can shop for clothes at these types of locations and pick out what suits you best and what will get you through until the next time you can get more clothes.
They will normally have dressing rooms or at least a bathroom available for you to try on the clothes as well. It’s important that you choose wisely and carefully, because they will often have a limit on how many pieces of clothing you can leave with per week or per month.
They don’t want people taking advantage of the system and taking more clothes than they actually need which is why they place limits on how many you can get. Many will normally keep track of you buy your identification card or other ways to identify and record how many pieces of clothing you’ve been given, so it’s best to bring any forms of ID with you just in case they ask for this.
Much of the clothing that shelters receive comes from direct donations, but a lot of times it’s clothing donated by certain companies or groups in order to get tax deductions breaks when it’s time to file their taxes.
So it’s not uncommon to see really nice or even designer clothing on the racks at these places, since it’s sometimes donated by upscale companies where it was originally meant to be sold to customers for an expensive price.
It’s also not too out of the ordinary for churches to offer clothing to indigent and needy people as well. Most of the time the clothes you find at small churches is donated to them by the people who actually attend their services.
However, some churches are more proactive and actually go out in the community and to local businesses to collect clothing for the poor. Sometimes they’ll donate the clothing they receive to the local rescue missions I mentioned before, but other times they’ll simply have a time and a day each month when you can visit the church in order to pick up clothing, which is usually kept in a backroom.
I use to get some of my own clothing at a local church that would have a clothing store available to the public that was open on the second Thursday of every month.
Strangely enough, they never asked me to prove what type of income (or lack of income) I had, so they had no way of knowing I was homeless, although I was. Years later, I still own one of the sweaters they provided to me which helped keep me warm when temperatures dropped outside and I drastically needed it.
Even if a local church doesn’t provide clothing, they’ll almost always direct you to an organization that does. They often partner with clothing distribution centers, which are those large metal drop bins you sometimes see on large city streets where people drop their clothing into.
So it’s always best to check with them and if they have no clothes, you can simply ask them where you should go to get some.
Clothing Donation Centers
If you’re walking around town or checking online for places that distribute clothing, chances are that you’ll probably come across a few donation centers as well.
If you do, you can simply ask the people who are receiving the donations where they plan to distribute them. In other words, find where the clothing is donated and you can find where it’s also distributed. Donation centers are the places where the general public and various charity groups and organizations go to in order to donate any extra clothing they have.
These donation centers then distribute the clothing to poor and homeless people at certain times or days of the week, or work with other organizations such as the churches I mentioned who then distribute the clothing.
So while you may be wasting your time by visiting these places in person, since they probably won’t be able to distribute clothing on the same days they’re taking it in, you can still ask them by calling them up and finding out where you should go in order to be on the receiving end of the donations.
Sober Living Homes
Sober living homes are usually advertised online or through resource directories at homeless shelters. These are places where people often move into, which can serve as transitional housing once you get off the streets and want to get into a regular home where you pay rent for a bed.
Many of the men living in these types of homes receive benefits for staying there, and one of those benefits is sometimes free clothes. The managers or board members who help run the homes will often work with other groups in order to get clothing donated to the houses, and the residents then get their pick of what they want to wear.
I’ve lived in a few sober living homes in the past in North Hollywood and Burbank, California and the managers would sometimes bring a heap of free clothes for us to choose from about once a month. So if you’re really desperate to find something to wear, or just simply want to find other choices in what’s available, you can always call up your local sober living homes and ask the managers if you can pick some clothes out whenever there’s any left that their residents don’t want.
This is a long shot, because most of the time, the manager will probably want you to actually be a paying resident in order to take advantage of benefits like this, but it wouldn’t hurt to ask and you might just be able to start a regular arrangement with one of them where you can get free clothes from them on a monthly basis.
If you’re not afraid of asking for help, you could always simply go online and ask strangers if they’ll donate clothing to you or if they’ll loan money to you for clothing. This form of asking for help is referred to by many as “cyberbegging”, which some people feel is equivalent to panhandling online.
While this should probably only be resorted to if you’re absolutely desperate, the option is there if you research a bit online. Posting an ad for help can be done through a number of different websites, from social networking sites to fundraising, microfinance sites, or homeless donation sites.
While GoFundMe is definitely the most well-known fundraising site for individuals asking for help, there’s still many other smaller sites popping up on the internet each year that are similar in concept. While most are based around the idea of receiving money or funding from others, some sites will allow anybody who is struggling to ask others for help in the form of donations and even clothing, so you might want to research cyberbegging and see what sites appeal to you.
You could always try a few different websites, ask others to donate clothing to you, and if someone is feeling altruistic you might just receive some clothing in the mail or some money donated to you specifically to purchase clothes. You could even set up your own blog with photos of yourself and an explanation as to why you need help and what you need, then advertise that blog on other websites to draw attention to it.
As a last resort, you can always visit thrift stores in your area and pay for the clothing if you have any money. This is the last option I’m mentioning simply because this doesn’t involve free clothing, but sometimes you’ll find such great deals at thrift stores that it may be worth spending a few bucks on some decent clothing.
Goodwill is easily the most well-known thrift store organization in the United States and they often have decent shirts, pants, jackets, and women’s clothes at a fraction of the cost. It’s even cheaper than places like T.J. Maxx, Ross Stores, and Marshalls, because it’s all second-hand clothing that is donated to them, similar to the clothing that’s donated to churches and shelters.
After I recovered from being homeless and got on my feet, I was on a mission to conserve money so that I would never become homeless again. I began to shop at Good Will and now the majority of my clothing comes from them and I have to admit that I’ve found many shirts I’d normally pay for when browsing through their clothing racks.