Atheists Helping the Homeless

Since I often write about charitable works done by atheists, I’m happy to be able to report on a new one. Joe Zamecki informs me of a new Austin-based charitable group, Atheists Helping the Homeless.

I’ll let Joe explain his group’s purpose and mission:

Atheists Helping the Homeless is a new, and still very small group of Atheists who are helping the homeless here in Austin, Texas, by giving them free items that fall into the category of toiletries. Not food, mainly because that’s already well covered by other help groups. Very few groups around here give out free toiletries, so we focus on filling that gap in help.

We’ve received donations of money and items to give away from all over the nation and beyond, but we need more. We need to let more Atheists know about this project, so we can help more homeless folks. (One need not be an Atheist in order to help us, but obviously it helps.)

The goals of this project are, in order of priority:
1. To help some folks in need,
2. to show by example that the idea that Atheists don’t care and don’t help people in need, is very very false, and
3. to have fun.

The location of our work is always the same, under I-35 at 7th Street. We’ve already succeeded with all three of our goals with the five giveaways we’ve done so far. We’re now doing them once per month, and the biggest challenge has been to spread the word about this all over, so we can get more donations, and help more people in need. 100% of all donations go to paying for these items we give out. We’ve also added some non-toiletries items to our list of things to give out, like gloves and socks, which are both VERY popular with the folks we help. Our next giveaway to the homeless will be on Sunday, December 20 at 8am.

Also we videotape each giveaway to show our donors what we do with their donations, and to show the world that we are well received in this effort by the folks who gather under that bridge. Here’s the link to the playlist I’ve created with videos of our giveaways:

I’m glad that this group videotapes their giveaways and invites people to attend, as this is an important way of providing transparency and giving donors the assurance that their gifts are being used for good ends.

As atheism becomes more popular and influential, we can expect more atheist-driven charitable efforts to arise. This is undoubtedly a good thing, but it also means that we atheists who want to do the most good be increasingly vigilant about where we direct our efforts – that we make certain to support the groups that will do the most good, rather than those that spend our money unwisely, or those that are outright scams. Atheists Helping the Homeless, though it’s still in its startup phase, has taken important steps toward providing that assurance, and I applaud them for that.

Charitable efforts like this one offer tangible evidence that atheists are moral and compassionate human beings who care about the welfare of our fellow people. The knowledge that we have only one life should be the strongest possible motivation to do good for each other, and I’m glad to see Atheists Helping the Homeless putting this principle into action, by reaching out to those who are too often shunned or neglected by society. If you feel the same, I invite you to chip in a few dollars – because even a few can make a great deal of difference to people who have so little – and to support humans helping humans out of rational ethics and compassion, not because of superstition or religious dogma.

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About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, City of Light, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Soulless_Wolf

    Hooray for atheists sticking to the christian expectation of us and doing real good at the same time.

    Though, I have to say I am against this “give a man a fish” approach to helping the needy. While giving a man a fully belly is nice, it won’t do him much good tomorrow; unless you intend to feed and shelter them for life.

  • Joe Zamecki

    I should’ve mentioned one of the other reasons why we give out items like the items we give out. People need both, food and some way to clean up a little, and like I said, other groups are taking care of the food part. Not many give out toiletries.

    What makes the toiletries a little better in the context of “give a man a fish…” is that these items will not only last longer than one meal, some of the items we give out will last a lot longer. Toothbrushes and combs can be used for years, if they’re taken care of.

    In at least one of our videos, I explain that part of the reason for toiletries is so that a person can clean themselves up for a job interview. They might have an interview in the morning, and it’s a very good job, and it would help them get off the street, but let’s say they haven’t seen a shaver or shampoo or a toothbrush in weeks.

    One bag of our toiletries can make a big difference in that case. If I was interviewing perspective employees, it would make a big difference to me.

    With these items, people can help themselves. When they ask me if they can have something we’re giving out, I always say “Yes, help yourselves — literally.”

    We give them something they can use to help themselves, and not just for today either, but potentially several days and more.

    I agree with you about the “give a man a fish…” issue. That’s one big reason it’s toiletries and not cash or pizza or something like that. Though pizza would be good too! :o)

  • the chaplain

    …part of the reason for toiletries is so that a person can clean themselves up for a job interview. They might have an interview in the morning, and it’s a very good job, and it would help them get off the street…

    This is a good point. I used to be involved in a charity (it was a Christian group) that provided homeless people with a hot meal every evening (that’s all resources (human as well as financial) would allow), laundry and shower facilities, access to phones (so that potential employers could contact them to schedule interviews), access to computers (for job-searching, submitting Internet resumes, etc.), toiletries, clean clothing, etc., so that, when they were invited to interview they could present themselves in their best light.

  • the chaplain

    Sorry – I forgot to add this to my previous comment. It’s a shame that atheists have to highlight their lack of religious belief and can’t just quietly do good. Given the current political climate and distrust of atheists, though, it’s necessary to counteract the negative stereotypes that religious people propagate about us.

  • Soulless_Wolf

    I agree with you about the “give a man a fish…” issue. That’s one big reason it’s toiletries and not cash or pizza or something like that. Though pizza would be good too! :o)

    I admit I didn’t watch the videos, my bad. You now have the approval of some random guy on the internet (me).

  • Ritchie

    Whilst I enthusiastically applaud this group’s noble work, am I the only one who finds the fact that they’ve called themselves Atheists Helping the Homeless strikes an odd chord?

    Isn’t it a bit like having a group called Redheads Helping the Homeless, or Left-Handed People Helping the Homeless? I think I’m missing the relevence of the fact that they’re atheists – is it just to promote the fact that atheists do charitable work too? Or is it to counter the groups who proclaim their religious affiliations in their name?

  • Valhar2000

    is it just to promote the fact that atheists do charitable work too? Or is it to counter the groups who proclaim their religious affiliations in their name?

    As Ebonmuse explains in the post, the answers to those questions are “yes”, and “yes”.

  • LindaJoy

    Perhaps the Texas group could come up with some clever name for their group that would prompt a question which would generate an answer indicating that it is a non-believer based group, rather than using the word “Atheist” out front. Something like “Stuff Without Sermons” or “Free Help From Freethinkers”. Someone could definitely come up with something better than my suggestions, but that gives you an idea.

  • Staceyjw

    We NEED charities that prominently say ATHEIST- many are religious, and those of us who assist through them, because secular alternatives are not available, are seen as religious too. Atheists get 0 credit for our charity, since we usually do it quietly, but we need to show the public that we do good too.

    I’m doing a holiday gift and necessity collection for an orphanage in Tijuana along with getting them a solar hot water system installed, free.

    Unfortunately, every charity group that runs these homes is religious, which makes my efforts seem motivated by the same belief, instead of HUMANISM! I find this to be a worthy cause, and even though the organizer that I work with writes “god bless” on every email he send me, I still participate.

    Good work Austin Atheists!


  • John Nernoff

    It’s very nice, I suppose, that people help others. Each individual must decide, based on emotion, sympathy, empathy or altruism, or hostility or misanthropy. I am not a humanist. That atheists give is artificial and irrelevant to anything. Atheism is a philosophy with regard to deities and the supernatural and has nothing whatsoever to do with moral behavior. Theists use charity in the false belief they are bribing their way into heaven. I don’t think atheists should ape them.

  • Steve Bowen

    Theists use charity in the false belief they are bribing their way into heaven. I don’t think atheists should ape them.

    Agreed! Religion also uses charity as a recruiting seargent and I don’t think atheists should ape that either. As a rule I avoid supporting explicitly religious charities especially when they blatently proselytize,I am sure xians would avoid supporting explicitly atheist charities for the same reason.

  • keddaw

    Great work. I think the use of the word athiest in the title is a necessary evil while a decent percentage of teh country assume athiests are selfisy, narcissistic baby-eaters. Humanists For Humans would be a good name for another group I think.

    I live in the UK (this may go slightly OT) and I see charitable requests all the time, but I am so tired of the government giving money to religious groups and unworthy charities that I struggle to even check out a charity before deciding against giving. Not giving has become my default position. I think that I pay enough in tax that if there is a social issue (homelessness, cancer, disabled people etc.) then the govenment can fund it out of the not insignificant sum I pay them in tax.

    In this regard I would give more money to charity if I paid less tax. I think it is a moral obligation for the wealthy to help out those at the bottom of a society they have profited so gretly from. I do not think I should be able to force them to help if they do not want to though. Which comes back to the fact that my morals are different from yours and while I will try to convince you mine are correct I will not impose them upon you as long as you do not impose yours upon other people.

  • Kelly

    Seeing charity groups like this warms my heart. Unfortunately, we really do need atheist charities that shout their worldview out to the world. Atheists need every bit of good PR we can get. Religious groups do charitable work in the name of their faith. I don’t think this is any different.

    Be sure to check out another new humanist charity, Foundation Beyond Belief. They’re launching a very exciting charitable giving program next month.

  • bbk

    Steve Bowen and John Nernoff:

    I don’t think you need to identify every atheist charity as such. For example, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. And I’m not a Humanist either. But in this case, atheism can be considered a feature of the charitable work. Unlike almost every other charity helping the homeless, this may be the one place where homeless people can go to get some things they need without being harassed by religious groups.

    The rate of mental illness and lack of education among the homeless makes them particularly vulnerable to religious incursion. As a result, it’s common to see panhandlers begging for change in God’s name and blessing (or cursing) everyone who is walking down the street. It’s good for the homeless to know that they can seek out help without having to perform a song and a dance in exchange for it and it’s probably good if it means that some mental illness isn’t exacerbated as a result of them being led to believe that an invisible man is giving them loaves of bred. Maybe there are some homeless persons out there who do not wish to be religious and they would seek out more help if they knew where to go for it.

    Homeless people do have word of mouth and they share with each other where the best places to go are. If the charitable group gains a good reputation among the homeless, then those homeless will respect atheists and perhaps defend us when someone tells them that religion is the only answer. It seems like a good PR strategy.

  • John Nernoff

    I did say it was nice to give. My only criticism involved the probable disingenuousness or duplicity in giving in the name of atheism. I think most people would easily see through the sanctimonious cover of an atheist charity.

  • Jason

    Hi Adam. Is there an NYC group doing this? If so I wouldn’t mind getting involved.