Sometimes it is easier to pretend we don’t see someone on the sidewalk because we aren’t sure what to say or do, but individuals on the streets need our love, care, and attention the most. As homelessness is on the rise around the country, you likely encounter it while driving or walking down the street in the city you live; therefore, it is important to know how to interact with a person experiencing homelessness. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when interacting with your neighbors on the streets in a way that shows them care, dignity, and respect.
1. Acknowledge them. Greeting people when you are walking down the street is a social norm and we shouldn’t treat individuals experiencing homelessness differently. Be kind, give a warm greeting, make eye contact, smile, and ask them how they’re doing because it shows that you care, and they are being seen and valued. Remember that these individuals are people too – created and loved by God.
2. Get on their level. If they are sitting, crouch down. If they are standing, stand next to them. Often when we look down on them, it can make them feel less than. If you meet them where they are, it breaks boundaries and shows dignity and respect.
3. Offer necessary items. It is up to you what you’d like to give to an individual experiencing homelessness. In the winter months, consider giving them water to drink and winter clothing to help them stay warm during the cold temperatures. In the summer, consider giving them water or Gatorade and sunscreen to help protect them from the hot sun.
4. Listen to their story. Most people are willing to share their story. If you can pause for a minute and listen to their story, the human interaction can make a big impact on their mental health. Instead of walking past and ignoring them, try stopping to lend an ear. Do not ask too many personal questions and avoid interrupting. When you show you care by listening, making eye contact, or nodding your head, it can make their day.
5. Prayer is powerful. Sometimes you may feel helpless in the situation, but you can always pray. Please pray for your neighbors that are experiencing homelessness. You can pray that their physical, spiritual, and emotional needs are met. Pray that they would feel hope – the eternal hope we have in Christ. Also, pray that they would be opened to receiving resources and connections so they can begin their path out of homelessness and journey towards health, stability, and long-term housing.
The truth is, you may not be able to get someone experiencing homelessness off the streets, but you can acknowledge their humanity, treat them with dignity and respect, and see them how God sees them – worthy, and loved. You may underestimate the power and difference a simple “hello” or smile can make in your neighbor’s lives. Don’t miss an opportunity to show the compassion of Christ to people experiencing homelessness you encounter.