Six Proven Ways to Help the Homeless


We sat over waffles and coffee and she asked me to share what I could about homeless people. She had helped and been frustrated at times that it didn’t seem to “work.” That got me thinking.

There are many success stories when befriending homeless people. I can think of half a dozen without trying. But all of them begin and end with two words and thoughts–patience and understanding.

People who had the wisdom and strength to seek help and the patience with themselves and me to request on going assistance are no longer homeless.

So how does one really “help” the homeless?

Here’s what I’ve seen which works:

  • Don’t assume anything. You have no idea how that person became homeless. It’s not usually one thing but a series of events. Listen and learn and ask questions–a lot of questions–until you can sort out how they are in the position they’re in and offer help from there.
  • Help in the way they want. Homeless or not, all people have preferences. It’s important to honor that if you’re going to be helpful.  Ask what they need and then offer what you can that fits their request, not your preference. I’ve seen people give cans of food to homeless folks who have nowhere to cook and can’t carry heavy stuff in a backpack. I’ve seen hard candy go to people without many teeth. “Helping” in a way that’s not what the person needs only leaves them less empowered.
  • Homeless people are people first. They are not their circumstance nor are they a project. Find common ground and discover things about them that attracts you as you would anyone you are thinking of becoming friends with. Offering help to a friend is a very different feeling than being a project for someone. If you don’t vibe, if you don’t see friend potential, then offer a warm smile and the ones in your pocket and move on. They may not be for you.
  • Patience is key. It took time to become homeless and it takes time to dig out. Popping for a hotel or letting someone crash on your couch for a week is not going to get them back on their feet. If you have long term accommodations and the resources to be a friend and allow them to process what’s happened, that’s truly helpful and may, over time, make a difference. If you just want to help very short term, that’s fine. But if you still see the person panhandling don’t be discouraged or angry. Your one act of kindness doesn’t wash away the years they’ve been down.
  • Do not assume there are “services” for that person they aren’t accessing. Nearly every person on the homeless spectrum is aware of the alleged services which exist and have accessed them at some point. The Trail card for food assistance offers around 100 bucks per month for a single person who has no place to cook and it doesn’t cover hot food. So they’re looking at a catch 22. They still don’t have enough to eat.  OHP is truly helpful but it does not cover everything fully and what it does cover is not always easy to get at such as mental health services. Many providers don’t take it. Those who do have a long waiting list. It goes on and on like this. Transitional housing is not available for everyone–in fact it covers only a rare group. It’s a broken system and it’s important to know it going in.
  • Finally, normalcy is king. Homeless people are traumatized people. They have been attacked, many seriously, they have not had a good night’s sleep in a very long time, whatever self esteem they once had is pummeled. They are often suffering from chronic pain of one sort or another and cannot imagine feeling good. They offer stories as payment and may talk your ear off as a result. They may also need deeply to be heard and honored in that way. Be patient with them and with you. Establish normalcy and routine.  Take them to lunch inside at a restaurant on Tuesday, pop for a movie ticket and see a film on Friday. Set patterns so they have something to hold on to.  No one wants to stay in the bottom of the well and you can help them lighten up.

The reason we still have homelessness is due to certain assumptions. As a society we assume homeless people have made unforgivable mistakes, are dangerous or refuse to seek services we provide in our society. We assume they have addictions and are generally unsafe to be around. These assumptions vilify poor people.

Fact: there is no proven data to say that homeless people commit more crimes than housed people–the fact is, according to a Stanford study and checking police records, they are more likely to be the victim of a crime than to commit one. 

That said, you don’t know the person so be careful the way you would with any stranger.

The vast majority of people who are homeless are unhoused due to basic math-math which has changed dramatically over the past twenty years. A ten dollar per hour job cannot pay for a $1,000 dollar per month apartment even if you work full time. Most jobs only work people 30 hours per week. That puts you at about $900 take home.

The original minimum wage was established and indexed based on the cost of living–but that was in 1938! A living wage in Jackson County Oregon where I live is $16.43 per hour. Most people do not earn that.

Low vacancy rates at less than 2% and supply and demand economics make housing costs high while wages are low. This adds up to homelessness.

Add to that the safety nets we once had have not existed since 1995 when “welfare” was officially scrapped. Homelessness is up by up to 25% in West Coast cities. Most folks who are homeless did not travel to those cities. They are natives. Three people out of four who are homeless grew up there.

Who is homeless? You- if you miss a few weeks of work. Me- if I get sick and cannot produce work daily. All of us if the economy does not change.

If you want to help a homeless person understand these facts. Telling them to get a job or access services doesn’t help but discourages. Over time, with care, patience and understanding, it eventually gets better. What that looks like is different for everyone. Never doubt that your care makes a difference even if you can’t see it.

Life is hard but we can choose to make it easier. We can do this long term in our systemic  approaches and you can do it short term for the guy next to you on the park bench–but remember this one thing first:

It all starts with a conversation. It is helped through understanding and deep patience.

You ready? Me too.





3 thoughts on “Six Proven Ways to Help the Homeless

  1. I had been seeking the net for months, getting the very same previous stuff.
    Then identified this homeless couple’s story now.
    It is really distinctive, it displays the wrestle of a special situation. Health problems and a couple
    of terrible conditions have still left them down and out, needing aid to endure.

    I won’t be able to picture sleeping in my car, so
    I tried it for a evening. I ran the auto to get it warm right before I wrapped up in a blanket on the backseat and turned off for the night time.
    Just after a few hrs of sleeping with a nose dripping from the cold, cocooned a number of hours, and woke up
    at daylight with a driving requirement to pee and a lot more aches than I
    understood attainable. Jogging within to use the toilet, didn’t even feel the
    chill until finally the heat struck me through the front door.
    I won’t be able to stay out there and deal with all my requirements,
    how do homeless persons do it? A absence of very affordable housing, combined with slumping pay at the reduced
    end of the U.S. wage scale, has been cited by analysts as a driver
    of homelessness in a number of U.S. cities.

    “We are 7 million units short of reasonably priced housing for low-income folks – that is a massive hole,” say major town leaders.
    It really is not a great business conclusion to house very poor persons,
    so how can we have for-financial gain landlords having cash from the poorest
    and getting pressured to evict individuals who won’t be able to shell out.

    Around 500,000 persons in the Usa are homeless, the poorest Americans are nonetheless having difficulties to meet up with their most fundamental requirements.

    In 1 feeling the prevalence of homelessness looks odd,
    simply because the national poverty level has fallen to about the identical level as ahead of the economic downturn.
    However homelessness is linked to financial expansion. In some of the nation’s additionalappealing significant towns, housing is fast appreciating to a place the
    place it is out of achievement for reduced earners.

    The housing-1st method has been revealed to preserve revenue
    when as opposed with the far more regular product for working with homelessness.
    The price of delivering an condominium and social
    function for Utah’s housing-1st clients is about $eleven,000
    for every year, though the cost for people today residing on the streets is $17,000 each year
    mainly because of clinic visits and jail charges, in accordance to the Los Angeles Situations.

    Median hourly wages in the US have scarcely budged for decades,
    from $16.74 in 1973 to $17.86 in 2016, in phrases of 2016
    dollars, in accordance to the Economic Policy Institute.
    But in New York, for instance, the hourly wage required to comfortably
    lease a single-bedroom is $27.29. In Los Angeles, it is $22.98. ” You’ll need the knowledge and problem-solving skills you learn in science and math to cure diseases like cancer and AIDS, and to develop new energy technologies and protect our environment. You’ll need the insights and critical thinking skills you gain in history and social studies to fight poverty and homelessness, crime and discrimination, and make our nation more fair and more free. You’ll need the creativity and ingenuity you develop in all your classes to build new companies that will create new jobs and boost our economy.”suggests Barack Obama in a
    speech to our nation’s youth. Perhaps we can consider of a homeless or incarcerated human being as
    a valuable foreseeable future worker.

    This pair is 1 of numerous, working to lift them selves out of a widespread trouble, with a lot less than enough means.


    1. The book which is being published on this site points to what you’re speaking of. I appreciate you reading, please continue to read and share your thoughts with me. Thank you for taking the effort to provide your experience and knowledge.


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