Updated: Jan 10
"Anything will help."
"Need money for food."
We have all read the signs and seen the faces of the individuals behind the cardboard. For some, the reaction is to turn their heads and ignore the cry for help. Some react with doubt,
"They only want to buy drugs."
"They aren't really homeless people."
"If they need money, then they can get a job."
The unhoused tend to be lumped into a social problem or given a number to represent the homeless population... but they are rarely viewed as humans.
In 2015 I was 23 years old, living in San Diego, CA, and my husband was on his first deployment. My friend (now business partner Randi) was in town visiting me. We decided that we wanted to take water and food to the homeless people at the Harbor in downtown San Diego. While we passed out the food and water, we would stop and talk to each person. The first man we encountered was scrummaging around in the trashcan, looking for bottles to recycle. We approached him and asked him if he would like some food and water. He immediately said, "Yes, but I am not homeless." He had a bag full of clothes and a bag with the bottles he had been collecting. He then asked us what group we belonged to and why we were giving out food and water. We told him that we just wanted to help and weren't with a group. He then began opening up to us about his divorce and how he had been struggling to find a place to sleep.
The simple conversation and act of kindness had brought him to tears. We then asked him if we could pray for him, and with arms wrapped around each other, we proceeded to do so, and then, following our prayer, he prayed for us. We then continued on the strip, passing out water and food. There then became a point when my friend and I were surrounded by a group of homeless people, and they were all telling us their stories. One lady, in particular, had confided in me that she had been abused the night before by another homeless man. I then opened up to her about my testimony. I explained how I had an abusive father and how I could empathize with her.
Humanizing the homeless people is a way to aid in ending homelessness. Simple conversations with people and not judging a person based on their circumstances. The unhoused are not invisible; they are people. So the next time you see a homeless person make eye contact. Even if you are not in a position to give or help, just treating the homeless people like humans could make their entire day. All people really want is for another human to care about them.
If you would like to help the unhoused, you can donate to Vocal Survivors. Or you could keep supplies in your car to distribute. Visit Vocal Survivors Care Packages to receive supply ideas for the unhoused.
"Homelessness is much more common among the poor and minorities in terms of race/ethnicity, sexual orientation and identity, and institutionalization and among those with physical and mental disabilities compared with the general population."(Fowler et al., 2019, pp. 467)
Fowler, P. J., Hovmand, P. S., Marcal, K. E., & Das, S. (2019). Solving Homelessness from a Complex Systems Perspective: Insights for Prevention Responses. Annual Review of Public Health, 40(1), 465–486. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-publhealth-040617-013553