Are you interested in knitting for homeless people? Here’s how you can be sure your donations will be useful and appreciated by society’s neediest folks
Would you like to knit for homeless folks? It’s easy to see why it’s one of the most popular charity knitting causes. It’s a great way to show love and comfort to truly needy people.
Imagine how the cold months feel when you’ve no place to lay your head. Then imagine going without a hat or a scarf or mittens or even socks to stay warm. Imagine feeling alone, forgotten… even like you’re a lazy burden on society.
Now imagine how it would feel to know that a total stranger cared enough about your suffering to create an article of clothing, or a blanket, to warm you.
This is why so many of us knit for homeless people!
“Knit for Homeless People, They’ll Take Anything”
I think an unfortunate stigma, if you will, surrounds the choice to knit for homeless people. To wit: since homeless people have little to nothing, they’ll take “anything.”
While I have seen and heard that homeless people are more often than not thankful for anything they receive, this does not mean that we should offer them our “dregs.” Charity knitters should put as much thought, love, and effort into knitting for homeless folks as they do knitting for, say, preemies or those fighting cancer.
Since you’re reading this, I doubt that you plan to donate your dregs! But it’s possible you’ll hear from others something like this: “Oh, great idea to knit for homeless people, they’ll be happy to receive anything!”
If you do, I hope you’ll gently correct them!
I like to say that I enjoy knitting for homeless people because they’re so often the forgotten ones of our society. And they deserve kindness and respect, too. It might be worth sharing with those who have this misconception of knitting for the homeless.
After all, as Carol of Relief Share told me, “God loves all of his children and wants us to help each other.”
Guidelines for Knitting for Homeless People
I wanted to offer a comprehensive guide to knitting for homeless people. I have never been homeless, and hopefully you never have, either! So I went to the experts: founders and directors of charities that take knitted items especially for homeless folks.
From their outstanding advice, you’ll find the following guidelines helpful!
1. Remember who you’re knitting for – especially when you’re choosing yarn colors. Homeless agencies work often with men, and they want (and perhaps need) the plainest, most muted colors possible.
Emily of Emily’s Hats for Hope (no longer running, but with many spin-off chapters, the legacy of her incredible charity lives on!) told me this:
“We have personally handed out hats to the homeless on the streets of Manhattan and were asked multiple times if we had solid black hats because that is what they preferred. Even the women we encountered asked for solid black hats.”
Carol of the Streetknit Project added this:
“We at Streetknit have found that [those who frequent] the agencies that address those on the street per se are more often men and would need dark colours (don’t want to stand out…dangerous when someone might be on a bad trip and could take it out on someone who draws attention with bright colours). Also, the dark colours don’t show dirt.
“For youth shelters, nothing too bright, but slouchy toques, wrist warmers, cowls, that sort of thing. Funky brights, again, make them stand out. Apparently black is still sought after particularly with a pattern like skulls, etc.”
Of course, many other shelters house women and children, who tend prefer brighter, more cheerful items. This is where you can get a little more decorative.
2. Use wool or wool-blend whenever possible. Wool is simply warmer, and when you’re knitting for homeless people, the idea is to protect them from the elements as much as you can.
But remember that you still need to make a comfortable item. And some wool yarns can be on the scratchy side. This is why wool blends are often such a great yarn to use; the wool makes them warmer, while the other fibers (often acrylic) makes them softer.
Emily told me, “We usually use Lion Brand, Caron or Red Heart yarn, although other brands are fine. We always tell people it is important to avoid yarn with angora or mohair because the person who receives the hat might be allergic.
“If the hat must be hand washed, then the yarn is just too fancy and really not suitable for someone living on the streets.”
Diana of the now defunct Knitting Neighbors Together told me this: “I prefer buying Michael’s Charisma yarn because it’s soft and warm and also extra bulky, so it’s more motivating to get through more hats, scarves, etc.”
Carol of Streetknit Project said, ““Worsted weight seems to be the best for knitting most of our projects. As I said, wool is the warmest, particularly if you create larger items, and then felt or line them.”
Carol of Relief Share said, “Many people think they are allergic to wool, but, in fact, wool is hypoallergenic. What most folks experience is stiff fibers poking the skin, which causes irritation.
“Having said that, acrylic is often the best yarn to use in charity knitting. Hobby Lobby carries their own house brand called I Love This Yarn and it is very reasonably priced – Relief Share volunteers use that kind of yarn a lot.
“Use the ‘feel’ test when choosing yarns. If it feels stiff and scratchy, walk on by, if it is soft and supple – it may be a good choice.”
Leah of Project NightNight said this: “I would also suggest using a softer grade of yarn vs. just the least expensive. Sometimes the blankets can be very stiff. We want the kids to snuggle them and feel safe and secure.”
3. Any skill level of knitter can knit for homeless folks. This is one of the exciting things about knitting for charity in general! Beginners can knit scarves, hats, and blanket squares.
If you’re a more accomplished knitter, consider knitting gloves and mittens; charities desperately need them.
And if you enjoy knitting socks, do so! They are just as happily accepted as other items.
Some comments from our experts:
Emily: “Items for winter that we have found the homeless men and women want: hats, scarves, socks, gloves (or fingerless gloves), mittens, and afghans.”
Carol of Relief Share: “Some of the most needed items are: blankets, all sizes; hats, baby to adult; gloves, mittens and fingerless gloves; slippers, socks, booties; soft toys.”
Carol of Streetknit Project: “Hats, scarves (not too long, can be choked with longer lengths or get them caught up in things), mitts (warm ones; we recommend thrum knitting, chunky real wool and/or polar fleece liners), and socks.
“Because socks are harder to knit and take longer, it is generally thought that buying them addresses the immediate need for foot warmth, but there are knitters who love doing them. Adding linen thread to the heels makes them last longer.
“For women and children’s shelters, anything goes. Little kids love colour, and mitts that look like animals are big. The women appreciate more feminine things, even shawls and bed jackets, shrugs.
“We have volunteers who knit squares until the cows come in, and then someone graciously puts them together into blankets for refugee family shelters.
“Slippers in all sizes are good for drop-ins and family shelters. Drop-ins can use anything we can make in terms of scarves, hats, sweaters, etc.
“Even babies can find themselves in a homeless situation, so baby things for family shelters are welcome.”
Diana: “A basic ribbed hat works wonderfully because they stretch well. Some individuals will wear two hats on the extra cold nights, so that extra stretch is really helpful, as is knitting hats a little bit larger.
“While distributing, there did seem to be a big need for gloves or mittens as well. Scarves are great as well, since they can probably double as pillows too.”
4. Animal lovers, you can knit for animals as well. Of course, check with the charity you’re knitting for to make sure they have a space (and need) for your projects.
Carol of Streetknit Project: “Also, for the animal lovers, there are some drop-ins that also welcome pets. Dog coats are also in certain places useful. Just sayin’.”
(Of course, if your local shelter or drop-in doesn’t need animal items, you can always knit for your local animal shelter!)
5. Always, always, always check the guidelines for the charity you’re knitting for. Unfortunately, charities often have to dump many projects because they don’t fit their guidelines.
If you’re not knitting for a specific charity, but rather for your local shelter, it’s never a bad idea to call them first and find out what they need. The above guidelines will always be helpful, but it’s always best to find out exactly what your local shelter needs — before you start knitting if possible.
Sadly, homeless people tend to be outcasts. It’s far too easy for them to believe they are no longer worth anything because they don’t have a job or can’t work.
When you knit for homeless people, you don’t just keep them warm. You let them know that they do have value, you love them, and they are worth keeping warm.
I think that’s a great reason to keep knitting for homeless folks! How about you?