7 Best Charities for Helping Homeless People (2021 List)

7 Best Charities for Helping Homeless People (2021 List)

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Dennis Kamprad

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From A through to Y, the range of not-for-profit organizations helping homeless people worldwide is staggering. Today’s quantity and quality of homeless charities makes it hard to decide which will make the best use of your donation. So we had to ask: What are the best charities for homeless people? 

Topping the best charities for helping homeless people is the National Alliance to End Homelessness. They have a consistent history of advocating for the rights of the homeless through direct communication with policymakers to overcome this societal issue at federal and local levels.

The charities in this article operate on either local, national, or international levels. Many of these organizations also advocate for policy changes that will help make homelessness history. Read on to discover more about the awesome work of these powerful initiatives, as we’ll walk you through their mission and successes.

Related: Have you ever wondered how one of the arguably richest countries has so many homeless people? Or what could be done to change this narrative? Check out the book Answers Behind the RED DOOR: Battling the Homeless Epidemic (link to Amazon) for sobering yet powerful answers to some of the most important questions about the growing epidemic of homelessness.

These Are the 7 Best Charities for Helping Homeless People

Below are our favorite charities for helping homeless people (you can click on their link to directly jump to their section in this article):

(At the end of this article we’ll also share our six-step approach on how you can select the best charity to support. And we’ll give you an overview of how you can find out how to best support your chosen charity.)

National Alliance to End Homelessness

The National Alliance to End Homelessness sets the gold standard for how charities can support homeless lives across the United States. Its mission is to end homelessness, period. By applying research and data to arrive at solutions, the Alliance works at a federal and local level to create policy and resources that ensure its mission. 

Established in 1983, the National Alliance to End Homelessness has a rich history of challenging the state to generate plans to end homelessness. The Alliance has a national network of over ten thousand associated public and private groups. It leads the way to end homelessness on a national level. 

The Alliance has a consistent history of advocating for the rights of the homeless. It does this through direct communication with policymakers. An instance of its impact came in 2000 when the federal government and Congress took on the Alliance’s strategy for ending homelessness. The action resulted in substantial policy shifts in housing provision, data collection, and systems for managing homelessness. 

The Alliance has got its method worked out. It approaches its mission in three ways that ensure it can measure the impact it has. First, it works through knowledge building through research. They then make this data available. Second, it works on improving policy. It educates policymakers on how to develop laws that support solutions. Third, it assists communities with training, technical help, and tools.

To confirm its position as one of the best charities working to assist the homeless, the National Alliance to End Homelessness is Charity Watch’s grade A+ charity. Its program percentage is 90%, and, on average, it takes them just $4 to raise $100. 

Considering its nationwide impact and how its research guides Federal response to tackling homelessness, we’ve just had to put National Alliance to End Homelessness at the top of our list.

Coalition for the Homeless

The New York-based Coalition for the Homeless is the longest-running national homeless organization. Their statistics are impressive. Since its inception, it’s helped 1 million homeless New Yorkers get off the streets. It supports over 3,500 destitute New Yorkers a day and serves between 800 – 1200 hot meals 365 days a year to the homeless.

There are eleven aspects to the Coalition. The Grand Central Food Program serves around 1,000 homeless people a day and provides a path to additional services and benefits for those who need help the most. It also has programs like the Eviction Prevention Program, which supplies one-off grants to assist people living with an immediate threat of eviction. 

The Crisis Intervention Program eases the lives of 11,000 homeless persons per year. The program puts vulnerable persons into shelters, connects them to counseling, substance abuse treatment, and mental health services. For long-term shelter residents with mental or physical disabilities, the Coalition provides a bridge to government benefits and permanent housing. 

There are programs to assist children affected by homelessness, too. There are summer camps and educational programs aimed at ensuring homeless kids don’t fall behind their peers. There are also graduate programs to help vulnerable youth to build bridges into careers. 

The Coalition for the Homeless wins our approval and rates highly because of its extensive range of programs and the work it does daily that directly impacts the lives of New York’s most vulnerable adults. On top of the Coalition’s direct action to homeless people, the Coalition’s advocacy programs strive to correct systemic issues. 

Charity Watch rates Coalition for the Homeless as A-. The amount spent on programs relative to its overheads is 84%, and it takes $17 to raise $100.

Chicago Coalition for the Homeless

The Chicago Coalition for the Homeless is a powerhouse for advocacy and empowering homeless people. Its staff of public policy experts, legal aid lawyers, and community organizers facilitate the lives of families, youth, former offenders, and low-income workers affected by homelessness.

Chicago Coalition for the Homeless tackles homelessness from different angles. It has a range of programs, including Bring Chicago Home and the Law Project. It runs up to 50 outreach sessions a month in shelters, schools, and communicating events. It advocates for changes in state policy, and it delivers homeless people the opportunity to become advocates, too. I cannot overstate the impact of the Coalition’s work on achieving enduring systemic change.

In 2019, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless campaigned tirelessly with its Bring Chicago Home program. The program proposes an affordable solution to homelessness that would create $100 million a year to benefit close to 90,000 homeless people living in Chicago. 

Elsewhere, the Law Project supplies legal assistance and advocacy for clients on low- to no-income and with pressing needs. In 2019, the Law Project closed 848 cases. This number of closed cases included 315 youth clients who were without family support or legal guardianship. 

The 2019 annual report speaks volumes for the power Chicago Coalition for the Homeless provides to vulnerable and the homeless. We also love the Coalition for its role in founding the magazine Streetwise in 2002. Streetwise is still giving homeless magazine vendors a hand up to this day. 

Chicago Coalition for the Homeless has considerable recognition from charity rating organizations. Charity Navigator rates it as a 4 Star Charity. It’s also top-rated by Great Nonprofits, earning five-star praise from many people who’ve worked with the organization. It also has a Guide Star Platinum rating for transparency. 

National Homelessness Law Centre

The National Homelessness Law Centre is a uniquely placed, small yet powerful organization that advocates for homeless people’s rights, so their needs get heard in courts across the nation. Founded in 1989, it is the only legal group that works to end and prevent homelessness. Its programs assist over 3.5 million homeless citizens’ lives irrespective of age, color, sexuality, or creed.

I can’t overstate the significance of the work done by the law center. Take its victory in 2018 against the United States Court of Appeals. There had been a move to criminalize sleeping in public spaces. Because of the National Homelessness Law Centre’s work, the Court of Appeals ruled that it was ‘cruel and unusual to punish the homeless for sleeping in public’ when there was no alternative. 

The National Homeless Law Centre is dedicated to transforming society’s broken systems. They advocated for the Homeless Bill of Rights to protect against the criminalization of homelessness. It also advocates for at-risk groups that include women who are domestic violence and tenants at risk of eviction because of foreclosure. 

All in all, this is one mighty yet small organization. Generations will experience the benefits of their work. For its successes and future successes in protecting the homeless’s rights, we just had to include the National Homelessness Law Centre as one of the best charities working to help the homeless.

Depaul USA

Taking its name from St Vincent Depaul, a monk renowned for his compassionate work for assisting the impoverished in DATE, Depaul USA is an affiliate of the Depaul International Charity, which operates in Europe and the USA. 

Depaul USA responds to matters of homelessness according to the needs of the region. Based in six locations, including Chicago, Little Rock, Macon, New Orleans, Philadelphia, and St. Louis, that’s a lot of regions and needs that it responds to. No wonder it has seventeen programs designed to assist youth and adults.

Its programs include housing, emergency, and health services for men and women suffering from homelessness. In response to homelessness in college students, Depaul USA established the DAX Program. In Chicago and Philadelphia, the DAX Program supplies housing, stipends, transportation, and even help for getting textbooks. 

Elsewhere, its initiatives supply permanent housing support to vulnerable persons aged between 18 to 24. It puts youth in contact with resources and strives to enable tenants to establish themselves as independent community members. 

One such person to benefit from Depaul USA’s St. Lazares House program in St Louis is Brian. Brian describes how the stability offered by the organization has helped him to hold down a job. No longer needing to concern himself with where he’d sleep or how he’d eat, Brian’s story is just one of many of Depaul USA’s success stories. 

Streetwise

Approaching the homeless’s needs differently to our other listed charities, Streetwise exists to give a “hand up, not a handout” to the Streetwise magazine vendors. Streetwise’s premise is simple: give homeless people a means to make a living by selling magazines.

The power of Streetwise is its ability to empower vendors. The magazine becomes their form of employment, a hurdle many homeless people cannot pass due to a lack of address or personal circumstances. That’s not an issue for anyone who wants to sell Streetwise.

The profit vendors make from selling the magazine enables them to cover rent, afford food and clothing, and even save a little money. In effect, the magazine transforms its vendors’ lives by giving them dignity and the means to better their circumstances.

Another positive aspect that Streetwise gives to communities is that it builds bridges. Vendors report developing relationships, and connections within their community as vendors meet fellow citizens, perceptions about homelessness shifts. 

Being a Streetwise vendor is a job. The vendor is a self-employed individual in charge of their business. But Streetwise doesn’t stop there. It has the STEP to Employment program that prepares individuals to enter the world of work and economic independence. 

We love Streetwise for its straightforward approach to a complex issue. It impacts vendors’ lives directly and supports them in their journey from homelessness to a place of security. In short, it’s an outstanding model for how charities can best help the homeless.

Abode Services

Our final designated best charity for its work supporting the homeless is Abode Services. With so many gold-star homeless charities working nationally and internationally, Abode’s tips ahead of other charities are the glowing reviews on Great Nonprofits

The personal experiences of organizations that work with Abode Services and those who have been helped by Abode send a clear message. Abode Services saves lives as it supports the most vulnerable. Care, dedication, commitment, and compassion are at the heart of charity. The reviews tell us this is precisely what Abode Services embodies. 

Working within the Bay Area, over eight thousand homeless and vulnerable people benefit from Abode’s work. Instead of focusing on the number of lives Abode has helped, we want to focus on a specific part of their work.

In preparing homeless people to enter into permanent and secure housing, there are stages to readiness. Often, failing any of the steps to being considered ready for housing means a homeless person gets locked into a cycle that keeps them out of permanent housing. 

In contrast, Abode Services focuses on Housing First. The approach places a homeless person into a secure, permanent residence and then sets about assisting them in the way they need. The help offered can be to get the person into employment, deliver the person medical or psychological assistance, or even landlord relationship management. 

Charity Navigator rates Abode Services five stars overall to seal its spot as one of the best charities for helping the homeless. GuideStar gives it a gold seal of transparency.

What You Need to Know About the Best Charities for Helping the Homeless

When you’re searching for the best charities to support, should you rely on charity rating organizations to guide you? And what makes a homeless charity the best at what it does? Let’s look at the information you need to assess whether a charity’s doing the best work to help the homeless.

Should You Rely on Ratings?

Not every charity has a rating by a charity rating organization. There are many reasons for this. Some charities prefer to share information about their work’s impact through their website, while others have not been rated yet. And should we rely on ratings, anyway? Ratings are just one way of assessing a charity. 

An article in The New York Times addressed the complex issues that charity ratings organizations have when scoring charities. The Times article highlighted the variety of data that rating organizations use to score charities. Understanding this information can help you assess the charity. 

In the following, I’ll walk you through aspects to consider when researching the best charities for helping the homeless.

When you’re researching Homelessness charities, you could apply some data that charity rating organizations use to help you arrive at an objective understanding of the quality of their work and impact. 

Here’s how the rating organizations assess charities:

  • With over 160,000 charities rated, Charity Navigator is an extensive site for information on how charities fare. It analyses financial health, accountability, and transparency. It also emphasizes that ratings are based on calculations. They are not a reflection of how one charity compares to another in order of rank.
  • Charity Watch uses data, including program % and cost to raise $100. The program % details the amount of money spent on charitable activities versus overheads. The cost to raise $100 is self-explanatory. 
  • Give Well sets out its criteria for assessing a charity as follows: evidence of effectiveness, cost-effectiveness, what additional funding would enable an organization to do, and transparency. To rank, charities must have measurable data from real-life programs that reflect how money was spent and what it achieved. 
  • Elsewhere, Great Non-Profits is a platform for volunteers, donors, organization members, etc., to offer their first-hand experience of not-for-profit organizations. There is substantial value in pairing this kind of information alongside data to decide a charitable organization’s work quality. 

Some charities are doing genuinely excellent work, yet don’t achieve a five-star rating. For this reason, it pays to balance community-sourced insights with data. You should also apply common sense to your final decision once you’ve done your background research.

The Best Charities Are Experts in Homelessness

The charities with the most significant impact on assisting the homeless understand specific facts about homelessness:

  • It’s systemic. No one chooses to live homelessly. It’s a complex range of issues that drive people to live on the streets. Charities recognize the need to solve the individual’s immediate problems and tackle more significant societal issues that lead to homelessness.
  • Homeless people are often vulnerable. Resolving homelessness is not a matter of putting a permanent roof over a person’s head. People’s reasons for being on the street are as individual as a homeless person. They may be victims of abuse, have psychological issues, chemical dependencies, etc.
  • Everyone has a right to enduring security. Charitable organizations respect and support the needs of an individual. They work with homeless people to provide permanent ongoing security, not just a quick temporary fix. They enable and empower those who need it most. 

Because they are homelessness experts, homeless charities with the most significant impact offer measurable solutions to individuals. Sometimes those solutions are immediate. Other times, the solutions take a long-term approach. Ultimately, the charity has systems in place and relationships with local organizations to provide lasting, not temporary solutions. 

The Best Charities for Helping the Homeless Are Accountable

Key features are consistent within the best charitable organizations working to end homelessness. These shared traits are:

  • Advocacy. Taking a big picture view of the systemic failures that result in homelessness, effective charities that have the most impact advocate on behalf of the homeless. Whether at a regional or national scale, the organizations speak up for the homeless minority and sometimes even educate the homeless or enable them to become advocates, too. 
  • Cost-effective where it matters. It often reaches the news that a well-known charity hasn’t effectively managed its fundraising initiatives or assets concerning the money spent on programs. An impactful charity prioritizes delivering programs rather than allocate financial resources on asset management or fundraising. 
  • Empowerment. Homeless people often need immediate assistance, be it medical, financial, or housing. Through education or accessing government support, impactful charities provide long-term solutions that empower and enable homeless individuals.
  • Mission statement. With a clear mission statement, a charity has a purpose and can be held accountable for its successes or failures.
  • Measurable. Charities should be able to measure the impact they have. Whether it’s reporting on the number of people they fed or evidencing how their donations were spent, an influential organization has the data to prove its reach. 
  • Multiple programs. Not one of the charities listed as best for helping the homeless offers a one-size-fits-all solution. They have various programs that suit the location and needs of the homeless people that approach them. In the same way, reasons for homelessness are complicated, so an impactful charity has programs that cater to the spectrum of people they look after.
  • Part of a network. Effective charities are part of a system. They work with public agencies or private organizations. They offer an array of solutions and draw from a pool of experience. 
  • Transparency. Even not-for-profits must report to the IRS and make available their data so that donors can see where their money ends up. Look for the Guide Star seal of transparency on charity websites. 

How Can You Select the Best Charities to Support?

The charities on this list are, we deem, the best charities for helping homeless people. But don’t just take our word for it! You might want to do your own due diligence for each of these – as you should. Or for a particular charity that you may have in mind.

Either way, check out our six-step approach to select the best charity to support:

  1. Check out the charity website and their mission. Charities that are worthy of your donations are transparent in their mission and their figures. Familiarise yourself with their history, mission, and values. The website is the best place to start. And while you are on it, also check out their mission to see how clearly you align with it.
  2. Check if the charity has measurable goals. An effective charity has clear goals. You want to know your donation will help the charity reach its goals. But if it doesn’t have targets, it’s likely to fail or squander your gift. The charity should be able to account for its spending and supply evidence of the work they do.
  3. Assess the successes or goals the charity has achieved. You wouldn’t invest in a business if it kept missing its targets. In the same way, charities are like this too. If no one is assessing the progress a charity makes in reaching its targets, the chances are not making positive change.
  4. Check the charity’s financials and stats. Trustworthy organizations will publish financial statements and reports each year. Some might be exempt from having to do so, but they should be able to provide them to public members who are interested in donating.
  5. Double-check the charity’s independent ratings. Two great places for this are Charity Navigator, the largest database on charities that analyze their financial health, accountability, and transparency, and Charity Watch, which details the amount of money spent on charitable activities versus overheads.
  6. Locate sources who work with or benefit from the charity. Word of mouth and first-hand experience of a charity’s work lets you know the charity’s quality. If you’re able to do so, check out the charity for yourself or speak to someone familiar with it. This way, your donation will go to the right place.

How You Can Support Your Favorite Charity?

After you’ve made your decision, it’s time for you to decide on how you’d like to help the charities you’ve chosen. Check how you can help – each charity runs specific programs that have unique aims. Find out what the aim of such programs is and whether they are right for you. 

Here are a few ways you can help your chosen charity:

  • Donate money. You can find donation pages on the website of most charities. Your donation can be a one-time payment, or you can set it to be deducted regularly at different intervals. You can mostly pay via credit card, but some charities also take PayPal or Bitcoin payments.
  • Buy their official merchandise. The charities can also raise money by selling merchandise. So, you can support them by buying the mugs, shirts, caps, pens, pencils, and any other such items they may be selling. Ideally, you should buy as much as you can to share and spread the word about the charity’s activities.
  • Donate a percentage of your online purchases. If you bought anything on sites like Amazon lately, you’d find a prompt asking you to donate to your favorite charities through their Amazon Smile program. You can set this up so that your chosen charities will get a fraction of your online purchases.
  • Engage in volunteer work. As you’ve seen from our descriptions above, some charities engage in a lot of local and grassroots programs. You can help by taking on and organizing the program in your local area.
  • Help their fundraising efforts. You can spread the word about the charity in your workplace, school, church, etc., and hold creative fundraising drives on social media or offline within your small circles.
  • Share their stories. Most charities have compelling stories that you can share with your audience to attract more people to the cause.

Final Thoughts

The best most effective homelessness charities understand that ending homelessness is a complex social cause that requires real systemic change. Because of this complexity, they fulfill multiple programs at different levels. They advocate. They influence policy and secure protections for the homeless. Simultaneously, they work at a grassroots level to deliver vital assistance that saves lives in times of crisis. 

If you want to support a homeless charity, check out the impact they’re having socially, politically, and for every homeless individual that relies upon them. Your donation really can make a difference. 

Stay impactful,



PS: Finally, I want to leave you with a thought-provoking TED talk from Dan Pallotta, a leading philanthropic activist and fundraiser, about what is wrong with the way we think about charities – and what we can do about it:

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