There are a variety of reasons why people avoid interpersonal contact with homeless people on the streets.  They range from an addiction to the inner voice of fear to physical appearance, to the strong scent of body odor, to signs of mental illness, to the stigma of labeling homeless people as “Bums,” “Panhandlers,” “Social De-Generates,” etc.  What is missing by focusing, exclusively, on the homeless is how those judgments keep ordinary people from confronting their own emotional inner homelessness.  It’s a form of human displacement that fits people who live in comfortable houses, but feel unrest and unhappiness living there, even with others. 

The following ideas are intended to inspire people to re-think old ways of avoiding homeless people. They are framed in the context of a wisdom saying: we do not see things the way they are, we see things the way we are.  These suggestions invite you to focus on how the homeless might help you uncover some new self-discoveries about more meaningful ways of engaging all people.


1.    Look at the homeless person as a human being first. With the eye of your heart see their need be treated with respect and decency, despite their physical appearance.


2.    Introducing yourself to a homeless stranger by your first name is not just “etiquette” but practicing human dignity.


3.    If a homeless person is standing outside a coffee or pastry shop, be bold and invite them in to order their own preference as you do.


4.    Whenever you stop at a fast-food restaurant, order a gift certificate to share with a homeless person on the street or at an intersection while you’re waiting for a traffic light to change.


5.    Keep bottled water in your car so homeless people can stay hydrated just like you.


6.    If you take time to listen to a homeless person’s story, and if you own a business, you may discover that homeless person has skills or enthusiasm needed in your workplace.  Offering them a job lifts up their dignity as well as your own.  In the words of Mark Twain: The best way to cheer yourself up is to try to cheer somebody else up.


7.    Listening to a homeless person tell the story behind the words on a cardboard sign, may inspire you to re-write the words on your sign, hidden inside.  Spoiler alert:  we all carry signs.  The signs of the homeless are visible.  The signs of the emotionally displaced living in houses are invisible.


8.    If you practice the Christian religion, the image of a Good Samaritan is a good role model for putting your religion into practice. 

9.    The virtue of compassion is the best way to “suffer with” someone less fortunate in order to ease the burden of carrying your own sufferings.


10. If you put a smile on the face of a homeless person, you walk away noticing a smile on your heart.