How You Can Help Someone On The Streets

  • Photo credit: Downtown DC Business Improvement District
Emergencies:
If you see someone who is in immediate physical or mental distress, please call 911. Don’t assume that someone else is going to call so please take the initiative to help the person in crisis. 
 
Mental Health Crises:
If you see someone who is homeless and having a mental health crisis you can direct them to any one of the city's community hospitals.  They will evaluate the person and give them mental health treatment as needed. If the person is not interested in going to the hospital or doesn’t have the ability to go on their own but you still have concerns about their welfare, you may call the Department of Behavioral Health’s Access HelpLine at 1-888-793-4357, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week so that a crisis team can respond. Some of the behaviors you may observe include screaming, provoking others, threatening to hurt themselves or  someone else,  feelings of extreme depression, exposing himself/herself, dressing inappropriately for the weather, acting or gesturing erratically, or walking in traffic. Other crisis situations may also include the inability to meet basic needs for safety and physical health: extremely poor hygiene, lice/bugs, refusing to eat/drink fluids, extreme weight loss.
 
Non-emergent Medical or Psychiatric Assistance:
If you see someone that needs medical or psychiatric assistance but there is no immediate danger to the homeless individual or others around him/her, then you may call the Department of Behavioral Health’s Homeless Outreach program (202-673-9124) to get them the help that they may need.  The outreach team will come out and assess the person for intervention and assistance. Be prepared to describe the reason for your call and to provide a good description of the person. This includes where the individual is located, clothes he/she is wearing, personal demographics, unique characteristics, and the person’s name (if known). 
 
Food Assistance:
If someone asks you for money and you are uncomfortable giving them money but want to help in some way, consider getting them a water bottle or a healthy snack, or directing them to the nearest meal program. You can use this interactive site DC Food Finder for various kinds of food resources in DC (including food bags and prepared meals). 
 
Shelter:
If you know someone who is interested in going to shelter, direct them to the Shelter Hotline for assistance at 1-800-535-7252. They are available year round for scheduled transportation and outreach to homeless residents of the District. During the winter months (November 1st through March 31st), the program provides services 7-days-a-week, 24-hours-a-day to homeless adults and families. They offer emergency transportation to shelters, access to warm clothing, blankets, sleeping bags, and food, when available. During the warmer months, (April 1st through October 31st), the Shelter Hotline continues to provide scheduled transportation to shelters and emergency transportation when temperatures are excessively high from 8am until midnight. They are often our first line of defense during weather related emergencies. 
 
Families:
Homeless families can be directed to the Virginia Williams Family Resource Center for centralized intake and resource referrals.  Virginia Williams is located at 920 Rhode Island Avenue, NE and their phone number is 202-536-0017. After hours, homeless families may call the Shelter Hotline for assistance. 
 
Veterans:
Homeless veterans can be referred to the Community Resource and Referral Center (CRRC) which is located at 1500 Franklin Street, NE. They can also be reached at (202) 636-7660. The CRRC is open 7-days-a-week, 24-hours-a-day and although it is not a shelter, it includes a primary care clinic, kitchen, laundry, shower facilities, a food pantry, and other community resources for Veterans. Please note that not all offices are open 24-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week. The Veteran’s Crisis Line is 1-800-273-8255.