Police, social workers warn against donating items directly to the homeless

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SALT LAKE CITY — 'Tis the season of giving, but police warn one way of helping the homeless could put yourself and your family in danger.

“We're so fortunate in this state that people are so generous and they want to do something,” said Sandra Hollins, Homeless Outreach Program Manager for Volunteers of America.

The sidewalks in downtown Salt Lake by the Rio Grande are crowded with hundreds of men and women who have nothing. While the temperatures drop, the holiday season warms souls and Utahns want to give to those in need.

“We see a lot of people with their cars and families here and drive on the street and give things away,” said Sgt Joe Cyr, Homeless Outreach Service Team, Salt Lake City Police Department.

People who want to help the homeless will sometimes fill up their cars with warm clothing and food to give away, but police have warned the public against the practice.

“If you show up with items to give out, you will be bombarded. It happens. It happens a lot,” Hollins said.

It's a scene police have seen unfold too many times.

“We have seen people drive their cars on the street and be stopped in the middle of the street by crowds of homeless people, who will and basically surround the car and start reaching in the car to get things,” Sgt Cyr said.

Police have even seen fights break out over a coat or blanket.

“We see people that are in much greater need, but we also see people who are more desperate,” Sgt. Cyr said.

The safest and best way to help is to give to organizations.

“We know who needs hats and gloves and who needs what, and so we're better able to serve them,” Hollins said.

Organizations like the Volunteers of America go out every weekday in December to hand out items.

“You find that you get the same feeling but its in a safe environment,” Hollins said.

There are locations at many of the shelters where you can safely drop off items. You can find some shelters in Salt Lake City here: http://www.slchost.org/