Hesitation while approaching a stranger is very common and oftentimes justified, too. Whether it be a passer-by, a friend of your friend, or a person living on the street because simply walking up to someone you barely know sometimes backfires. In the case of individuals experiencing homelessness, it can be a little more intimidating than usual. But this shouldn’t stop us from offering kindness and helping such people out.
Oftentimes we are so caught up in our lives that we tend to ignore the people living on the streets—we know that people don’t do it on purpose. It just happens as we go with the flow of life. However, we believe that the sole purpose of a human being is to be kind and make incremental changes in this world. There are things you can do and practice to avoid awkward situations while interacting with people experiencing homelessness.
While it may sound simple, it’s difficult to put it into practice. Although we know that those living on the street are humans, our actions often speak otherwise. We unknowingly tend to avoid eye contact, let alone smile at them. We are accustomed to treating them as mere objects lying on the streetside which comes unintentionally to most people. When you see a person experiencing homelessness, give them a sweet smile which can radically brighten their day. Exchange a few sentences with them. To break the ice you may ask them if they have eaten today? Where are they from? This can instantly boost their mood and may also make them feel worthwhile.
Sometimes you reach out to them but they don’t respond as warmly as you had expected. Do not hold it against them—practice forgiveness and letting go. They may have had a bad day. People experiencing homelessness are already suffering and sometimes, it’s hard for them to trust in someone or even believe in kindness. Not everyone will respond nicely to you but don’t give up. Our society needs compassionate people like yourself.
People experiencing homelessness often have very little social contact and may seem quiet, but often such people are the ones who have the most stories to share. If you have time, take a moment to listen to their personal stories but avoid asking too many (personal) questions. Questioning and interrupting them while they narrate their story might get frustrating for them. They often go through a lot in life and sharing their personal stories can help them improve their mental health. Listeners are advised to nod and respond by repeating back so the person knows that you’re actively listening to what they are saying.
As you have them share their personal stories with you, respecting their boundaries should be your top priority. There might be details that the person is not comfortable sharing—try not to ask those questions again. People living on the streets don’t have much privacy which can make them dislike social interactions. In this case, you should be polite and careful before approaching them—it’s okay if they don’t like being approached. Avoid being rude at all costs—you never know what they may have gone through in the day.
Oftentimes we tend to assume things about people experiencing homelessness. These assumptions, later on, take the form of myths. Now is the time to bust those myths through your personal experience with them. Do not assume you know what they need. They may not need that water bottle or sandwich you are trying to hand over to them. Ask them what they need instead of assuming what they need. Make sure to provide support or help if you ask them what they need.
While homeless people may seem intimidating to some, they are very nice humans whose outlook on life is deteriorated by their rough experiences. Homelessness can affect anyone at any time of their life. It’s important to remember them when we step out and help them believe in kindness one person at a time.