People Who Used to Be Homeless Weigh in on How We Can Really Help Those Out on the Streets

©Unsplash,Matt Collamer

If you drive or walk around any American city or even a lot of mid-sized towns, you’ll see homeless people all over the streets.

It’s a sad fact of living in this country and it’s heartbreaking to see so many people struggling.

But what’s the best way to help homeless people?

People who used to live on the streets took to AskReddit to share their insider thoughts and opinions.

1. From someone who lived it.

“I was a kid who ran from an abusive home. I was fortunate to have a car to sleep in and live out of. I’m no longer homeless but it’s still a struggle to keep a roof, people don’t seem to understand how many opportunities you just don’t have when you don’t have parents who love you and just want to hurt you.

What I offer is this, homeless folks need someone who’s understanding….

….. and some detangling spray for their hair. I always had horrible rat nest tangles in my hair and had to get most of it chopped off when I could finally get a haircut from how badly damaged it was. Clean hair is so hard, lush makes soap bars you can use on your hair, water bottles are also very important.

There’s also dry shampoo that helps wick away oil. But there really is nothing to replace soap. If you can buy a homeless person a haircut it boosts their morale so high. No one likes to feel dirty and incredibly scruffy/shaggy.”

2. They need jobs.

“Hire them.

Every time I’d be flying a sign, people would yell at me to get a job. I’d often yell back at them to hire me.

Zero offers.”

3. This is interesting.

“Donate directly to shelters and “Women in need” type organizations.

Clothes of all types and sizes – especially business attire!!! Dishes, silverware, measuring cups, coffee tables… the laundry detergent that didn’t work for your skin, the swiffer mop when you decide to buy a shark instead… ALL household items.

I left an abusive relationship with a 2mo old and 3yo. We took one trash bag of clothes, it was futile to try to go back and fight over a couch or a coffee table, or even the crib. Spent about a month and a half in a battered women’s shelter before I had an apt ready to move into.

My house was entirely furnished by donations, and by people who read my pleading post on freecycle. (Concord nc, 2004, y’all saved me and my children, thank you still to this day). A lady saved her foldout couch headed for the dump, instead kept it in her garage for me for 3 weeks until I could move it in.

A stranger bought my children an entire winter wardrobe from Kmart. Someone else cleared out their old kitchen ware – without that I wouldn’t have had a serving spoon, a potato parer, a single kitchen knife!!! I still remember each item to this day.

Don’t just give money, give stuff.

And give dignity. Don’t speak in condescending coos and murmurs. Speak to these people with respect, and belief. Speak to them like they matter and can understand you, just as you can understand them.

The absolute worst was seeing the subtle shift in tone and attention I received the night we ran to a gas station to get to the shelter. I just needed to use the phone, and then had to wait outside about 30 minutes.

Somehow it was instantly clear that we were “In Trouble And Had No Place To Go.” It’s painfully obvious when someone offers to help because they feel sorry for you or see an opportunity to Be A Good Person And Brag About It.

And it’s also obvious when someone offers to help because they just want to help another worthy human being.”

4. Charities.

“Give to homelessness charities. I’m in the UK, and have been helped by Shelter (housing advice) and St Mungo’s (they housed me and were great with my mental health and gender issues).

I hated the dehumanising aspect of being homeless. It was nice when I got treated as a person.

Most beggars are directly funding their addiction, which is one of the reasons why I don’t give them money. Not all beggars are homeless and not all homeless people beg.”

5. Rehabilitate and assimilate.

“Participate more in community programs that help us rehabilitate and assimilate. Direct contributions are greatly appreciated and the sentiments stick with most of us.

But, resources get consumed so fast that were back at square one within hours. If we had better outlets that gave us long lasting results, we’d have a better chance. Shelters (not missions, can explain), soup kitchens (community, not church, can also explain) and actual good will clothing organizations.

A consistent meal, wash, some encouragement and support from society that we desire to be a part of would go the ultimate distance. In short, volunteer/donate and promote community and social programs who’s goals are altruistic and aim to lift this solution up and out of existence within our communities.”

6. Resources.


Public bathrooms, public trash cans, public parks and beaches. These are places and things that facilitate being homeless in a respectful and dignified way.

It’s not hard to see the conspiracy among developers to monopolize public access to resources like bathrooms to “paying customers.” It’s also pretty obvious that developers conspire to monopolize social gathering spaces in general.

There has been a blatant agenda over the last 50/60 years or so to replace parks and beaches with malls and shopping centers as the place where people go to hang out. This is the social engineering that culturally alienates homeless people from the rest of the population.

When I was a kid growing up in a beach town, there was a thriving community of normalized homeless: beach bums, artists, hippies, etc. They were all eventually chased off by targeted cultural oppression campaigns, at the hands of militarized police, funded by real estate developers.

Without the community of homeless people taking care of each other and maintaining order within their community, that void gets filled with all of the people who can’t take care of themselves and are not resourceful enough to leave.

Basically, when you “crack down” on homelessness, you’re only driving out the homeless people who are able-bodied and resourceful enough to get up and leave, without realizing that those people were the ones holding the homeless community together and keeping it from turning into a “problem.”

Instead of thinking that we need to make homeless people not be homeless anymore, we need to actually facilitate being homeless, in a dignified and normalized way.

Some people are homeless by choice – it’s a legitimate American tradition amongst artists, philosophers, and poets. Those are the people who don’t mind hanging out with, feeding, and taking care of, the weirdos and the crazies and the unwanted, “unclean” people that society rejects.”

7. Important stuff.

“Access to free printing services in order to print resumes/CVs. Sanitary items. Maybe some kind of networking opportunities for the homeless to be able to get recognised for their skills and be utulised for job opportunities. Dry shampoo.

Also just listen, a lot of homeless people are judged and ignored constantly. People walk past them and don’t even make eye contact.

All they want is some consideration and to have someone take the time to listen to their story and see them as a fellow human being…. most people just want to feel connected and acknowledged.”

8. Treat people well.

“I left home at 16, for reasons, with a back pack of clothes, $50 I stole from my psycho father’s wallet, with no where to go and no way to get there. Along the way there were people who helped me, and probably never realized just how much.

One such lady was a waitress at a burger joint. Apparently at the time, the restaurant gave employees a meal as part of their pay. She would always give it to me, even though I never asked. I remember her, and many more like her. I’m 65 now and I have had a good life. I wish I could go back and thank them all. They don’t realize what a difference they made.

Treat people like you want to be treated. It sounds corny and cliche..but it is truth. You never know what one simple act of undocumented kindness will do.”

9. Helped out by a friend.

“I had a friend that let me do laundry and shower before work at his place when I was living out of my car.

I’ll never forget what he did for me. Was really the only way I was able to keep that job and find a place soon after.”

10. They need help.

“I was made homeless last year after a breakup with my ex, I had to move 50 miles away from my child. As that’s where my family is.

Anyway, Hostels don’t actually do anything, so a Hostel that actually provides daily counseling and life improvement opportunities please! Hostels are just a place to keep them and not actually provide any support.

I got a job and they “terminated my residency” so I had to find a place to live quickly, as I couldn’t pay 1000 pound a month to live with junkies and criminals daily (you have to stay unemployment to get government support to pay them as well as you paying a top up fee, leaving you with 90 pound a month to buy stuff)…the system is broken!!

Please, please fix that, take the business out of care please!!”

11. Safe shelters.

“There needs to be good, safe shelters.

The amount of women who won’t step foot in a shelter because of the rapes, assaults, etc that go on in them is staggering.”

12. Stop demonizing them.

“Former homeless here.

Quit spreading and feeding the “homeless should just get a job” rhetoric. It just simply isn’t that simple. In order to get/sustain a job, you need to be clean. In order to be clean, you need money for a spot to rent. In order for a spot to rent, you need a job. Repeat. It’s a cyclical problem.

In order to for someone to truly get off the street, something drastic has to change, usually with outside help, to solve that cyclical problem. Even if someone is sober, it’s not like a homeless person can just waltz into an establishment and get a job without being clean or having proper clothes.

Same as any other group- Quit demonizing homeless people as a whole. Homeless people come from all ties of backgrounds, and not all are good or bad. I was way more likely to get help from a fellow homeless than anyone else. Sad but true.”

13. Try to break the cycle.

“My wife took in two homeless people living in a pickup truck about 7 years ago. Both of them (a married couple) are kind of at the end of their lives, even though they are only in their 50s.

Rendered homeless because of health reasons, the husband works odd jobs for cash for the US Highway system (usually removing debris) and the wife works as an assistant manager overnight at a gas station.

They help around a the house, like mowing and such, and when my wife’s previous husband passed away, they helped her get through that. It’s the main reason we haven’t sold her old house, because seriously, there is nowhere for these people to go. They have no family, and no real future.

My previous assistant came down with some serious health problems as well, and has trouble keeping a job because of them. Right now, she’s living in my house, with my wife and I, helping with a lot of errands while she works on her certification and degree to get a better job. Without us, she’d be homeless as well.

Both my wife and I just grew sick of the homeless situation. Most people are homeless because they don’t have health, can’t afford the care, and it becomes a huge cycle.

I, myself, was homeless for the good part of a year in the 1980s, and I would not have made it had it not been for the kindness of others with a spare room.

You have to break the cycle. Once someone becomes poor, it is so so so so hard to break out of it. Most don’t make it, which is why there is such a huge problem with homeless in America.

You’re a third class citizen, treated like a bum, lower than dirt, and called lazy and being homeless is the punishment you deserve. You need an address to get a bank account, you need a bank account to get paid by a job, you need a job and a bank account to get a cell phone or driver’s license.

My first marriage, we took in 5 people, and 4 of them went on to move elsewhere and have the best lives they could. One of them owns her own home now, another got married and raised a kid, another got married and lives in a nice condo now.

They just needed someone to take them in and give them a chance. And yeah, sometimes you can’t help them. Either a substance addition, mental health problems you can’t spend 24/7 with them to fix, too sick to work, and some people are so far gone it would take a miracle and complete deprogramming for their entire childhood to repair.

But not everyone is like that. You can make a difference.

They did for me.”

What do you think?

Do you have any useful advice or information about this subject?

If so, please share it with us in the comments.