Basic hygiene products give hope to homeless in San Francisco


Meghan Freebeck, founder of Simply the Basics, fills bags with hygiene items to distribute. Credit: Meghan Freebeck

Imagine not being able to shower, brush your teeth or have menstrual products for days or even weeks. There’s an ongoing issue with the lack of hygiene products available to low-income communities and to individuals who call the streets of San Francisco their home.

Meghan Freebeck, founder and chief executive officer of Simply the Basics, is working to address this issue by providing hygiene kits to homeless people to fulfill their basic needs.

Freebeck moved to San Francisco from Chicago and started her work at San Francisco Suicide Prevention when she realized that she wanted to do more when it came to helping those who were struggling. She took action and began a donation drive to provide feminine hygiene products for homeless women all over the city.

“It occurred to me that while I was working in a very difficult setting supporting people in a crisis, it was actually when I left work and walked home that I felt my worst,” Freebeck said. “I couldn’t stand to live in a city with so many people in need and not do anything about it.”

The need for essential hygiene products, and the community’s overwhelming response in support for the homeless, made it clear to Freebeck that something needed to be done. Simply the Basics launched in May 2016 and distributes 2,000 basic hygiene product kits to homeless shelters in the city every week. Essential items that fill the kits include socks, tampons, toothbrushes and toothpaste.

This non-profit hygiene bank’s mission is to provide basic necessities to communities, individuals and organizations to ensure them with dignity as they focus on more significant goals. There are three programs offered to the public to help donate to and educate homeless and low-income individuals so they can gain skills for the future.

“People make monetary donations, and this is the greatest support because it allows us to ensure there is never a gap and we can meet different needs for different people,” Freebeck said. “We provide hygiene kits with all of the essential basic needs, but we do more than that — we give people choices.”

Hygiene kits include products that help improve health by supplying specific items to reduce infections. The city saves on funding because these particular products lessen emergency room visits. Simply the Basics is partnered with 70 organizations to receive products. Various donors, businesses and corporations often host bins to collect products.

“The programs Simply the Basics provides are so important. You can see that just by walking around downtown San Francisco,” said Lydia Montagnese, board of directors. “I am immensely proud to serve the community with Meghan and all of the hard-working people at Simply the Basics the best way I can.”

The hygiene bank focuses on ensuring that organizations have access to basic necessities and making sure items don’t go to waste. The academy educates people on healthy living and life skills, and the marketplace is a Craigslist-style platform for nonprofits and donors to connect.

“Meghan worked hard to make sure that thoughtful, intentional compassion was central to Simply the Basics,” said Phylicia Hisel, program assistant. “She and the Simply The Basics board worked for six months — conferring with doctors, established nonprofits and people who had experienced homelessness — gathering information on how things were at the time, what was needed most, and how best to fill that need and have the greatest impact.”