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What to do if you are worried about a homeless person?

Jul 12, 2022
5 min read
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Homelessness can happen to anyone, even you. The person on the street could be your neighbour or friend—maybe they were just fired from their job, or they lost their home in an unexpected fire, and now they're at the shelter until they find another place to stay.

If you have compassion for yourself and other people in your life who struggle financially, it'll be easier for you to extend compassion toward homeless people as well. It's easy to fear people you don't know, but the reality is that homelessness can happen to anyone. Homelessness isn't a choice; it's a circumstance.

Remember that every homeless person has a story, and you don't know what it is. It's easy to fear people you don't know, but the reality is that homelessness can happen to anyone.

Don't assume that someone is there because they're lazy or chose not to work hard in life—they might have had an unexpected setback and lost their job or have been struggling to make ends meet for years on end.

This blog will provide practical advice on interacting with a homeless person and the services you can refer them to

How do I speak to a homeless person?

Be kind and say hello, ask their name and use it.

When you see someone homeless, many people are afraid to say hello. However, it's important to remember that these people are real people with feelings and family members who love them just as much as we all do.

Ask them for their name and use it when talking to them instead of referring to them as "you" or "the homeless person." This shows respect for their individuality as human beings rather than lumping them into some category or stereotype, and it can make all the difference to their day.

Offer your assistance in ways other than money

Offering to buy someone a meal, drink, or snack is a wonderful way to help them feel cared for.

If you're able, offering to buy someone food can be especially meaningful. It may be their only source of regular nutrition, and, likely, they haven't had the opportunity to cook themselves in quite some time (if ever).

This gesture shows them that they are worth taking care of and that their needs matter. Asking if there's anything you can do for them is also an excellent way to start a conversation with a homeless individual—they may not always be comfortable asking for help from strangers themselves.

If you choose this route, don't pressure or guilt-trip your recipient into accepting your offer; instead of saying, "take my money," try something like ", "you look like you could use some food."

Remember that they are still people

It would be best if you remembered that they are still people and therefore deserve to be treated with respect. They have feelings and emotions just like anyone else and might even have families or friends who care about them. Many homeless people will tell you their stories if you ask nicely.

Remember: no matter their situation, these individuals are still human beings with hopes and dreams.

Don't judge their circumstances

Don't judge them. Many people on the street are there because of circumstances beyond their control, such as job loss, mental health problems and even domestic abuse.

Please don't blame them for being homeless. It's easy to get frustrated with someone who chooses to live on the streets when you're trying to enjoy your morning run, but homelessness isn't a choice.

Ignore stereotypes about homelessness

When you see someone you don't know on the street, it can be tempting to form an opinion about them based on their appearance or situation. For example, you might think, "well, this person is homeless because they choose to be." Or maybe you think: "I could never become homeless—I have too many responsibilities!"

But these stereotypes can cause us to miss out on opportunities for connection and compassion. As many as one in five families experience a housing crisis at some point in their lives—that means if your family isn't currently experiencing homelessness themselves, there's a chance one of their family members has been through it recently.

Learn about what's really behind homelessness and poverty in your area

While it's true that many homeless people lack money, there are other reasons why someone may be without a place to live.

Many people are homeless because they have a mental illness. They may not be able to take care of themselves or live on their own, or they could have trouble getting permission from landlords to rent an apartment because of their condition.

Many people are homeless because they have substance abuse problems. Drugs and alcohol can make it difficult for someone to hold down a job or maintain relationships with family members and friends, leading them toward poverty and homelessness.

Many people are homeless because they have a disability—physical limitations or something more internal like schizophrenia, depression or anxiety disorders—and these disabilities make finding employment difficult if not impossible (or at least very challenging).

A person who can't work might fall behind on rent payments and be evicted from their home if landlords aren't flexible enough to allow them time off during an illness even if that sickness is related only tenuously back to physical health!

And finally: Many people become homeless after being released from prison because there hasn't been enough time since release before moving into permanent housing (or even supportive services) becomes necessary again. Find out more about why people become homeless here. 

It's OK to be afraid or nervous

It's OK to be afraid or nervous around someone who is new to you, but don't let that stop you from treating them with respect.

When it comes to homeless people, the general public has a lot of misconceptions. They may seem dangerous or scary because they live on the streets and have had little interaction with other people.

But there are many reasons why they might be out there—some people aren't able to find accommodation because of mental illness or addiction issues. Others have been forced into homelessness by economic circumstances like job loss and lack of affordable housing options.

And still, others choose this lifestyle because they feel freer away from society's norms and expectations (and perhaps their controlling families).

They're not all criminals, thieves, or lazy people looking for handouts—they're often just regular people who want what everyone else wants: food in their bellies and some dignity left in the world.

Conclusion

We should be asking, 'how can we have conversations with people experiencing homelessness?' It's time for us all to stop looking at people as "the homeless" because that implies some otherness.

They aren't an outside group or categories like race or economic class; they are just people trying to survive every day and make their way through life as best they can with their available resources.

The next time you see someone who looks like they may need help, ask yourself: how would I talk to my neighbour? How would I speak to a family member? How would I seek out help if I found myself in that situation?

Read next:

Let's talk about homelessness in the UK

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