Here are some common misconceptions about homeless people:
- They brought the situation on themselves.
- They are all criminals, mentally ill, or lazy and unwilling to work
The reality is that while some homeless people have made bad choices that led to homelessness, it is only one of many causes for their situation. Often it is simply that circumstances thrust them into this state through no fault of their own.
While there are some people in life who are unwilling or unable to work, it can be incredibly difficult for a homeless person to get any kind of job. There is no way to contact them, they often lack appropriate clothing or facilities where they can to groom themselves properly, and once someone finds out the applicant is homeless their prejudices kick in and they will not hire them simply because they are homeless.
People are afraid to interact with anyone who appears homeless – fear being a huge barrier to communication. But f you get to know a homeless person, it brings an awareness that there is a very fine line separating a homeless person from yourself. We use avoidance to deny it could happen to us. Like some other people, if a homeless person says they are hungry I will buy them food from a restaurant or a grocery store. I will give them personal care items such as shampoo, deodorant, etc. I also offer information about shelters, free medical clinics, etc. Courtesy, kindness, and acceptance are qualities which cost you nothing but mean a great deal to the homeless person who quickly finds that being treated as if they are invisible is a chronic state.
Please consider choosing one person sharing our public spaces who is socially isolated by homelessness, and meeting for coffee once a week. Ideas about how to volunteer in this way are tabbed above. My article about a program that leads to employment for street kids is at Crosscut.