Living and working in uptown Charlotte, I see homelessness all around me. Everyday I watch people as they look at a homeless person with fear, annoyance, or disgust. I watch as people intentionally ignore those who are living on the streets.
Unfortunately, I cannot judge these people because I too am guilty of this act.
It is our instinct to be afraid of something we don't understand.
Thus, I challenge you to fight our instincts. I challenge you to not just be another scared face. We must be well-informed about homelessness so that we can help them rather than hurt them.
Over 610,000 people in the United States are homeless. In Charlotte alone, there are 2,014 people without homes (Urban Ministry).
Homelessness is primarily due to health issues, drug addiction, and mental illness. 10% of the homeless are veterans suffering from PTSD.
To find out how many homeless are in your state click the link below.
DO's and DON'TS
Do: Look them in the eye.
Most of us avoid eye contact as we walk by... why is that?
Homelessness does not define an individual. They are human beings just like us. They have thoughts, feelings, families, and personal struggles.
Greet them with a simple "hi" or "hello" while looking them in the eye. Even just a nod with eye contact lets the homeless know they are not invisible.
Acknowledgement can be a powerful act of kindness.
By ignoring, you become just another scared face. By ignoring, you belittle the homeless.
They are already suffering, so let's not be the reason they suffer more.
Do: Ask how you can help.
If you see someone begging for money, ask what they need and provide that for them.
If they are hungry, take them to a restaurant. Ask if they would like to sit down and eat so that you can talk. The homeless often lack social connection. They often feel inadequate and nonexistent. Simply sitting down and talking to them can resolve this!
Don't: Give money.
When you provide cash, you never know what your money is used for.
By providing specific needs, like food, clothes or a bus ticket, you ensure that you are impacting them in a positive way.
Do: Use your judgment
Your safety is always important. If you are feeling uncomfortable with the situation or individual, it's okay to take a step back.
Keep in mind that there are other avenues to help the homeless where you might feel more comfortable. Use the links at the bottom of this blog to find a volunteer opportunity near you.
Stereotypes often impede our judgement.
We cannot generalize that all homeless people are the same and struggling with the same battles. You never know why an individual ended up where they did.
Give each homeless person the same respect and courtesy you would anyone else.
Do: Get to know them
Building relationships and letting them know they are important is essential. Here are good topics to use in conversations:
Do you have any family?
Where are you from?
Where are you staying right now?
Do you follow any sports team?
End the conversation with "I will keep you in my thoughts." This shows that you care and provides them with a sense of love and support.
Don't: Be careless with your words
Make sure to approach conversations carefully. There are many sensitive topics that you want to avoid. Here are questions you shouldn't ask:
Are you homeless?
Why don't you have a job?
How did you become homeless?
How do I know where my money is going?
Asking these questions does not help their situation. Be a friend, not an interrogator.
One night while I was passing out sandwiches to the homeless, I had a conversation that I will never forget.
His name was Tim. After giving his homeless friends sandwiches, he grabbed my hands and said "Thank you. Thank you for doing something I wish I had the capacity to do." He started to cry as he told me how he'd been on the streets for over five years and how he just recently was able to get an apartment through a program. He got emotional telling me how much he wished he could feed every homeless person and get them off the street.
His gratitude was all I needed to inspire me to do more.
If he can get himself off the streets after being homeless for over 5 years, the least we can do is make sure we aren't just another scared face.