top of page

frequently asked questions

  • Where do you serve?
    With few exceptions, we serve unhoused people living in West Oakland, CA.
  • Who do you serve?
    The people we serve fall into two basic groups: people who are situated in encampments or curbsides, and people who wander. ➤ People who are nomadic get food, essential warmth, and urgent needs as long as we know for a fact they are houseless. We cannot fulfill orders of equipment for them or special needs because finding them again is often impossible. ➤ People who are situated are the folks we serve regularly, and for whom we fulfill every need possible—some we have served for years. We prioritize their needs and fulfill special requests to make their lives more comfortable, to keep them alive and strong, to help them improve their quality of life, and ideally to get housed and employed.
  • How many people do you serve?
    Our primary goal is to provide focused, dedicated service based on each individual’s situation and needs. And we are very aware that taking on too many clients would harm our ability to provide that level of high-quality service. Our own resources and availability have varied at times, and that’s been reflected in the number of clients we take on. At one point, we served as few as 15 people, and that consumed all our capacity. At other times we have served as many as 40 people at once. The number of people we can serve also varies due to the fact that encampments frequently change, merge, and are closed by the city. When a camp is swept, we may lose track of some clients for a while; and since these sweeps usually involve destroying all the residents’ possessions, the clients we are able to locate have elevated needs. It’s very important for us to remain flexible and to frequently re-balance our resources with the number of people served.
  • How do you choose whom to serve?
    When anyone on our roster of regular houseless people drops off for various reasons, we will consider taking on someone new. We only serve people in an ongoing way (beyond emergency needs) where they live—this is the only way to verify they are truly houseless, and to confirm how donations are being used. People who aren't situated in one spot therefore receive urgently needed survival items, but not more expensive items like beds. In order to maintain the efficiency of our operations, we usually take on new clients who are located on or near our existing route. This usually evolves organically as we discover new people living near others we serve. We do not prioritize based on mental wellness, addiction, willingness or ability to pursue housing, or criminal activity unless we feel in danger (which is rare.) We do, however, prioritize pregnant people and anyone with a critical health condition.
  • What percentage of donations go directly to helping houseless folks?
    Very nearly all. Our overhead expenses come from some occasional hired labor, vehicle expenses, gas, and space to operate. Volunteers do the vast majority of our day-to-day work. The board members and founder draw no salary. All donations go directly to food, assistance, and equipment for houseless people except for a small monthly amount to cover storage and operating space, and a physical laborer who helps less than 8 hours a week. We also cover our gas, and vehicle expenses for one delivery car.
  • Why are you helping severely mentally ill people? Shouldn’t they be in a facility, or helped by trained professionals?
    There are a number of historical reasons why so many people with severe mental illness are unhoused and neglected by social services. Part of our mission is to help these people get connected to the scant and underfunded professional mental-health services that are available. The stress of living on the streets tends to exacerbate mental illness; our services help to alleviate that stress and make unhoused mentally ill people better able to cope with accessing services
  • Why can’t you accept canned food? Or jars of peanut butter? Or other food items not on your wishlist?
    It’s easy to forget that houseless people lack the most basic amenities such as a fridge or other place to store food, as well as utensils, etc. The food on our wish list consists of individually packaged, single-serving food products because that is what houseless people are always able to use without waste or spoilage.
  • Why don't houseless people dispose of their garbage properly?
    Some encampments include leaders who help organize residents to keep things relatively neat and clean; others are more disorganized. All of them face very basic challenges such as not having any place to put their garbage. One item that is almost always on our wish list is garbage bags. These are very useful for unhoused people in many ways, not only to collect garbage. If you are concerned about this issue, please consider donating this item from our wish list.
  • Why do you need phones and minutes? Can't people get Obama phones?
    Unfortunately, like many other social programs, “Obama phones,” aka Lifeline Assistance, has a number of eligibility requirements that make it very difficult for unhoused people to access. The most basic of these are identification and a mailing address. In addition, most applicants need to already be enrolled in SNAP or Medicaid (MediCal in California) in order to prove eligibility. Remember that these people do not have a mailbox, have a hard time keeping track of paperwork, and all too often have ALL their possessions destroyed or thrown away by Oakland’s city government. In today’s world, having a phone is the single most important and basic requirement for being able to access services, apply for housing or employment or addiction treatment, etc. Donating phones and minutes to our clients is one of the most important services we provide.
  • Your wish list includes so many individually wrapped and plastic, disposable items. I’m concerned about plastic pollution. Why can’t you distribute recycled or biodegradable items packaged in bulk?
    We are also concerned about plastic pollution. However, the ability to substitute renewable, environmentally packaged products is in many ways a luxury that is not available to unhoused people. Individually packaged disposable items are usually required primarily for reasons of sanitation, and also for convenience. The ultimate goal of our service is to help people get housed and employed; once they accomplish that, then they can make the same kinds of environmental choices that housed people take for granted.
bottom of page