Tip #1 – Acknowledge & Engage
Homelessness brings a sense of loneliness that erodes the core of a person’s self-value. When you are homeless, a simple smile and a word of kindness can make a big difference in a day full of hardship.
Be sure to acknowledge the homeless you encounter in the street or subway. Say a simple hello. Talk to them and engage in a simple conversation. When you take your time to learn about your homeless neighbor, his or her story and family, you show them that you care!
Above all, avoid stereotyping or stigmatizing the homeless. There are many paths that lead to homelessness, and each person has a different story.
Tip #2 – Be Ready to Help Today
Sometimes, the homeless just need help to get through the day. In general, it is better not to give cash away. So what if you want to help today? You can provide practical and immediate help:
Carry with you gift cards from fast food or grocery store chains in your wallet. This way you will be helping your homeless neighbor get something to eat, as well as the opportunity to get out of the street and rest inside a store or restaurant.
Also, granola bars are easy to keep in your pockets or bag, and provide energy and nutrition.
Besides food, a small bottle of water helps prevent dehydration, a common health concern for the homeless community.
TO KEEP IN MIND
Always offer help first, rather than giving someone something they may not actually want or need. Many of your neighbors in need will be grateful for your offer of food or water. But you may also encounter someone who is having a really rough time and may be unable to appreciate your help. Please, don’t be discouraged. Just smile and keep on your way. You may find someone else to help.
Tip #3 – Help During Any Season
Winter season feels extra-long when you are living on the streets or sleeping in a subway car. There is a big risk of hypothermia just from staying outside for such long periods of time. You can provide protection from the cold weather without having to spend any additional money! Here is how:
Check in your closet for simple winter gear that you are not using anymore (or that you don’t use that often): a pair of winter gloves, a scarf in a color you don’t like anymore, a knit hat that you got for free at a game or event. Instead of keeping these in your closet, carry one at a time and give it away to someone you see living on the streets.
And how about those winter boots you haven’t worn in the past 2 years? Dust them off and give them to the homeless person you pass on your commute every morning.
Summer time is no different. A clean t-shirt does a lot for someone’s spirits when you are outside in the sweltering heat. Being able to change to clean, fresh clothes helps lighten your day.
If you travel often, next time you stay in a hotel remember to grab the complimentary hand lotion (that small bottle in the bathroom) and keep it in your pocket or bag. This lotion can help more than you think! Spending all day in the harsh winter cold can severely damage and dry out your skin.
Tip #4 – Understand & Tell
One of the biggest problems with homelessness is misunderstanding who are the homeless. Stereotypes and stigmatization make it hard for us to help others.
Learn about the different paths that lead to homelessness. Every person living on the streets has his or her own story. Some are very educated and just down on their luck. Some are struggling with addiction. Others lost everything to medical bills, and some suffer mental illness. No matter what brought them to homelessness, they all have value and deserve help.
If you are able, share what you learn with your friends, family and colleagues. Have a blog? How about writing about what you learned about homelessness this month? If you volunteer and tell others about your experience with enthusiasm, you can help eliminate misconceptions and stereotypes!
The power of one is great. More so the power of three, or ten! Gather a group of friends and volunteer together, collect food or clothing in your community and donate it.