Accepted Perception Of Homeless May Not Fit

The Homeless Need Emotional First Aid Too!

He was sitting by the wall, soaking up the warmth of the sun. Just reading a book not bothering anyone. She asked a simple question, “Have you had any lunch”? “Yes,” he responded, “I just did,” pointing to a nearby McDonalds.

Homeless man sitting against wall with hands folded and head down.

A simple question asked and answered. A question asked of a husband by a wife, a mother of a son, or just friends. No, the exchange was between a stranger and a homeless person in the parking lot of a neighborhood gas station.

With little thought, the lady had taken the first step correctly in offering emotional first aid to someone living a crisis. The question was open-ended and did not show any level of disrespect.

People in the know estimated that there were 600,000 homeless people nationwide just six years ago. Now the numbers are in the millions. The potential to encounter homelessness has now become standard for all people in all communities.

With this increase in numbers, the causes of being homeless have increased proportionately. Yes, there are the drug and alcohol issues that have been present since the beginning. And there will be people in the homeless population who desire to avoid the responsibilities associated with fully participating in society. But within the totality of the universe, many people find themselves in a bad spot originating from events unrelated to the commonly assumed reasons. People who may respond to your emotional first aid and be able to make course corrections before the hardcore issues take hold.

The initial steps are critical when interacting with an apparent homeless individual.

  1. Don’t cop an attitude or demonstrate an unfounded fear toward the individual.
  2. Make eye contact
  3. Ask open-ended, non-judgmental questions.
  4. If money is requested, suggest that you don’t have cash, but is there something else you can do to help. If you do offer cash, don’t provide it with any conditions or stipulations.
  5. Keep in mind that you are delving into an individual’s personal life. They may not want to discuss personal matters with a stranger. If, however, the person is, in fact, open to talking, this can lead to a real conversation and in the best of situations, provide a way to offer help. But even if you have a casual exchange, you could be satisfying a critical need: social connection. Many homeless stress over the feeling that they’re inadequate or nonexistent to the rest of the world. Having a real conversation can reduce those sentiments.

(The above is an actual event in which the individual was provided a night in a motel and the next day was provided transportation to an out-of-state relative where he is currently getting his life in order.)

Pete Adams
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