Former Homeless People Talk About How to Best Help Those Still Out in the Street

©Unsplash,Steve Knutson

I feel terrible for homeless people when I see them, but as someone who has never had to live on the street before, I have absolutely no idea what they’re going through or what would be the best way to help them turn their lives around.

But there is a group of people who would have the best advice on this subject.

Here’s what ex-homeless people had to say on AskReddit about this important issue.

1. Different circumstances.

“Every situation and circumstance is different, and the needs of an individual vary greatly.

I was always very appreciative of work trades, often doing landscaping/basic maintenance/farm work for food. Quick to establish a relationship if you have a good work ethic, and people often wind up tossing in some cash.

For a lot of people, food and hygiene products are greatly appreciated. End of the day though, the number one thing I appreciated was just not being bothered by people while sleeping/sitting/resting.

Getting kicked awake, displaced by cops, never being able to lie down, etc takes a toll on your body and the lack of sleep destroys your mental health.”

2. Food and insoles.

“Takeout food. I used to hold door open at restaurants for people and ask them for any leftovers. Many did and many bought me entire meals, but management often kicked me off before they could give it to me.

Gel insoles. It sucks wearing shoes 18 hours a day and walking eternities. You can get shoes for free, but not insoles.”

3. Dignity.

“First and foremost, treat them with dignity.

I was homeless last with my partner and the thing that killed our spirit was people being unnecessarily rude. If I am in that situation you can bet that I’m doing my best to get out of it as soon as yesterday because it’s really not nice begging for food, being cold and walking for what feels like eternities looking for literally any kind of employment opportunity while trying to look decent and trying to be positive.

If you can’t or do not want to help you don’t need to make snide remarks because homeless people are still people.”

4. Currently homeless.

“I’m currently homeless and have been since February 17th of this yr.

I’m also a women and would NOT be offended to get a bag of hygiene items..especially pads and tampons and toilet paper and wet wipes. On a side note..because of the restrictions surrounding the corona virus…most homeless do not have cars and it’s been REALLY hard getting food in the inner city the last 3 months.

Fast food will not let you walk thru the drive thru…the buses have either not run or run on a restricted schedule..so getting to the grocery store is difficult…food kitchens and soup lines have either stopped or restricted how often they are helping with food…it sucks living off corner store slim Jim’s and potato chips.

Idk what the solution to this is..however..if you go thru the drive and someone needs you to just order their food..not even pay for it…be kind and order the food. I know we have had reputations as scam artist and addicts..but we are real people with real feelings and thoughts and dreams and hopes and fears. Some of us are in limbo…on housing waiting list..no family support and trying the best we can to survive.”

5. The basics.

“It varies wildly from town to town.

In my experience socks and underwear are hard to get and can’t be reworn for days like your other clothes.”

6. Good advice.

“I literally move into my new apartment tomorrow so I’m freshly not-homeless, and here’s my input:

Feminine hygiene products are huge. Tampons and pads are expensive and when it comes between eating and bleeding on yourself, it’s a really hard choice.

Wet wipes. When you don’t have access to a shower, feeling clean makes a ton of difference  in how your day goes.”

Shelf stable food – obvious. Peanut butter and a loaf of bread were a godsend to me.

Gift cards to laundry mats – it gives you a chance to get clean clothes and a cool (or warm) place to hang out. A lot of places have free WiFi, too.

Umbrellas – again, obvious.

Water – I was almost constantly dehydrated. With COVID, places weren’t giving free water. At least around here.

An ear – being homeless is so, so isolating. It feels a lot like the world just doesn’t give a shit about you and you don’t know where you fit. People that talked to me, made eye contact – they made a difference.

Hope this helps!”

7. In a small town.

“I was once homeless with my dog in a small town. The local dog groomer was a friend of my family (who did not live there) and she took pity on me.

She lived out of town but let me and my little buddy stay in her shop for a few weeks. Even brought me an air mattress to set up in the upstairs storage space. Before we had just been living in the woods. Staying there gave me the chance to get a job since now I had somewhere to leave my dog.

The only condition she gave me was that nobody could know about it, as zoning laws would have caused her a lot of problems. L if you’re reading this I miss you and I thank you with all of my heart.

And until just now I’ve never told anyone.”

8. Getting clean.

“I was homeless due to addiction problems several years ago. Looking back, what ultimately helped me was the criminal justice system that court ordered me to attend drug treatment.

There was also a lovely nonprofit that provided cheap housing for after I got clean. These nonprofits usually take donations for furniture and whatnot, and you can get a tax write off.

If you’re more looking to help a homeless stranger, I would say socks and food were the items I truly needed most. My feet were wet 24 hours a day if it was wet outside.

If you’re trying to help someone you know, meet them where they’re at. If there is an underlying issue that can be treated, like mental health or addiction, try to be there for them when they’re ready to get help.”

9. Compassion.

“Was formerly homeless, now homeless again.

On an individual level, the most important thing you can do for me is have compassion, and treat me like a human being.

Listen to us, advocate for us, and help in more tangible ways when you’re able, with food, supplies, ect. You can make an incredible difference in people’s lives eith just a little compassion, a little effort, or a little helping hand.”

10. It’s a cycle.

“A way to learn to drive without spending thousands of dollars.

Improve public transportation. Improve access to real treatment for mental health issues (Including addiction).

Realize that a majority of people are just one bad thing away from homelessness, and it is often a cycle of getting set up with a job and place to live only to have it ripped away over and over.”

11. Such is life…

“Nothing really unless you meet them one on one. Even then 90% will betray/ disappoint you. But not everyone. I was homeless twice. As a child due to my parents love for drugs and alcohol and abuse.

Second when I was older and had a heart attack and took it as a sign and sold my shit and went out “into the Wild” for just shy of two years.

When I was older, being able to prove I was drug free was a huge help for me. Sadly a lot of people in the streets are there because they can not/will not fit in. Such is life sadly.”

12. Housing.

“Make it easier to find long term housing. Right now, I need to move. And even though I have references and have never missed a rent payment, I can’t find another place because my credit is shit. So. I’m going to end up in the cycle again.

How do you build up your credit when you’re homeless? You can’t. It’s much harder to find and keep work for hygiene reasons.

The entire system we have right now is almost impossible to claw back up from. It’s disheartening.”

13. Trying to get back into society.

“I was homeless for about 6 months after leaving the military. Happens way more then it should.

First of I don’t condone theft that being said. if you see them taking food from a store look the other way. A lot of that food will go to waste.

I wouldn’t stop them mid theft either to offer to pay. When I was in this situation I was extremely on guard and would become aggressive if confronted. A lot of the time if I was stealing I hadn’t eaten in few days.

Now if you see one sleeping and they aren’t in the way of the general public. Leave them be. Sleep is rare and when you can get it you take it.

Now I can’t talk for those that have mental disorders and can’t control themselves, but those of us that know where we are and that we don’t want to be there will take almost any offer you have for us.

In my experience being homeless is as close as you can get to being on deployment you can get in the states.

It’s exhausting, debilitating, and you are constantly straining to pull yourself back into a society that refuses to acknowledge you and the genuine help you get is almost non existent.”

14. Different needs.

“Theres no one answer to this.

I was homeless in the late 90s as a teen run away. I met a lot of homeless people. Some are there by choice and some circumstance. Many of the kids I knew were running away from abusive homes, some just wanted to party and do drugs.

Some of the older homeless were homeless by choice. They didnt want a job and a home etc. They wanted to be free. Many had drug problems, many were mentally ill.

This was all before a whole new homeless crisis began when former middle class were pushed out by rising rents and stagnant wages after the recession.

Everyone has different needs.”

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