Are you afraid to talk to the homeless man or woman you see holding a sign in the median? What about the person lying on the bench or curb with a blanket over her?  I have a way that can make it much easier for you.

Don’t be afraid to talk to the homeless man.

Just remember… he is only human.

Ecuador, Banos Ecuador, Homeless, South America

A movie I saw recently was like an awakening for me. The movie, Same Kind of Different as Me, told one family’s story about outreach at a local mission and soup kitchen. I don’t want to spoil the movie for you, but I share some Outstanding Lessons from this movie in another post.

Are you afraid to talk to the homeless man in a soup kitchen? The main character was certainly uncomfortable the first time he was around the people at the mission.

At one point, a homeless man asks the man feeding him “What do you think you are doing when you give us food?”.

He replied that he thought he was helping. The man explained that homeless people are used to finding food in all sorts of places.

Why does he feel it is important to reach out to the needy? He said, “for one moment in time we realize we are not invisible”.

Silence.

You could have heard a pin drop.

Wow!Don't be afraid to talk to the homeless man

This really touched me. I don’t want anyone to feel invisible or forgotten. Veterans, the poor, sick, homeless, convicts sitting in jail cells or neglected children… no one should feel invisible.

So, am I afraid to talk to the homeless man or woman? I have been. As an introvert, I tend to get nervous talking to just about anyone. But, I have learned a few things that are helpful.

Don’t be afraid to talk to the homeless man

I will preface these suggestions by saying you should always be safe. It is better to travel in pairs, keep your eyes and ears open, and make sure someone knows where you are going. Lastly, follow your gut. If you get a bad feeling, don’t put yourself at risk.

Tips for talking to someone different than you:

Remember we are all different.

None of us is better or worse than the other. When you find a moment to show kindness to others, there should be no judgment.

Practice good manners.

Don't be afraid to talk to a homeless person.Look at the person when you speak to him. Don’t look down, or away. Simply look into his eyes to let him know you see him. You would be amazed what you can see in a person’s eyes.

School teachers learn this early on in their careers. In order to better connect with a child, they squat down and get on the child’s level. This way, the child is less fearful.

Think of how you approach others. Are you afraid to talk to the homeless man? He may be just as apprehensive of you, as you are of him.

 Don’t be scared to get close.

I was with a group of people bringing food to the residents of a trailer park. I am not a real touchy-feely person so I don’t typically hug people.

But Maryann, one of the ladies in our group, laughed jokingly with one of the men put her arm around his shoulder and hugged him. She didn’t worry that he was dirty. I don’t think she took time to think at all. She appeared to act on instinct and showed the same sort of kindness to this man that she would show to anyone else.

I learned a lot from that moment.outreach at a local trailer park

I don’t think I was scared to talk to the homeless, or those in lower-income housing. But, I never thought of reaching out to physically touch the person. We are told often as educators the importance of gentle, appropriate affection. Why had I never thought of this before?

Ask what they need, and offer what you can.

One very cold Saturday in November I was busy running errands. I was on the way to the grocery store when I saw this older lady walking down the road dragging a large suitcase behind her.

She was obviously struggling to pull the bag through the grass along the edge of the road. She also had another bag in her other hand.

After watching her struggle for quite a while, I parked my car and went to ask if she needed help. I wasn’t sure what I could do to help but felt I had to ask.

She said she wanted to get to a place about an hour from where we were. I don’t know much about bus routes, especially in a smaller town where we live. I also knew I didn’t feel comfortable with the thought of driving her.

So, I asked her if the cold was bothering her at all. She said yes, but that it was really bothering her dog. Her little chihuahua was in the second, smaller bag. She said that was the only family she had.

Offer what you can to the homeless person on the street.We loaded her bag into the back of my van. She didn’t feel right getting in (showing she was just as uncomfortable as I was). She walked, carrying her dog, and met me at the local motel just a block away. I paid cash for her to stay one night and prayed for her safety.

I quite often wonder if that is what I should have done. Should I have done more? Maybe. But, I didn’t do less. I tried, and I let her know someone cared.

Don’t be concerned about only doing what is asked. Sometimes you can be of great service to someone by offering something else. So, don’t be afraid to talk to the homeless man or woman you see in the cold.

Let them lead the conversation.

If you are unsure of what to say to someone, the best thing may be to just listen.

Don’t ask about how the money you give will be used.

(And don’t worry about it either.)

My son and I stopped for an older man at a stoplight asking for money or work. I told him I didn’t have any work but gave him a little money. (My son made me so thankful as he dug in his pockets to add some money to what I had in my wallet at the time).

The gentleman was so happy. He showed us his broken bag holding his belongings and explained that now he could get one with straps that would make it easier for him to travel.

Give to the homeless man without worry.
image: Chris Yarzab without adaptation

There was a time, years ago, where I would worry about how the person would spend the money they wanted. Would they buy alcohol or drugs? Would I then be responsible for hurting them?

Then, a person at church said something, and at the time it seemed rather profound. She said that God doesn’t ask how we will use the blessings we are given. It is our own free will. He would hope it would be used for good, but that is ultimately the receiver’s choice.

So, I give. I give to others with a little prayer that whatever I give to the person will be a blessing. Fortunately, we shared this philosophy with our kids so they also know to give willingly.

If you are afraid to talk to the homeless man you see, don’t be.

Just talk to this person like you would anyone. Be kind, friendly, look in the person’s eyes and say “hello”. Then, take time to listen. Help if you can. If you can’t then that is okay. Sometimes, your kindness is enough.

And, if the person wants to be left alone, he or she will tell you. Don’t be offended. There are many times I need to be alone too.

Thank you!

Thank you for taking the time to read my suggestions on how to talk to the homeless man or woman.

Again, I don’t have great experience in this area. I am no expert. I’m certainly not better than anyone else.

I just think sometimes it can be helpful to have someone show us how to do something when we are a little nervous. I am so thankful to Maryann and all the others in my life who have modeled kindness for me.

Let’s go sprinkle some kindness around for others. And, let your good deeds shine so others will see and learn from you.

Hopefully then, if someone sees and asks “aren’t you afraid to speak to the homeless man?” you can say “No, he is just like you and me”.

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