4 Simple Ways to Show Compassion for Your Homeless Neighbor

by Brandy Wallner

When faced with someone on the street who needs help we can be tempted to roll up our car window, look straight ahead and avoid eye contact. Our disengagement can appear heartless, but just as often they’re symptoms of insecurity. We may not be sure how to help. This is especially true as the extra change or $5 bill that used to sit in our console is replaced by digital currency.

Read on, as The Restoration Project shares several ways to show compassion even when our wallets are empty.

  1. Say hi.

A global pandemic has made the consequences of prolonged isolation very real. Multiple studies have shown that even just a few days of quarantine have left people with “confusion, fear, anger, grief, numbness, and anxiety-induced insomnia,” (Brooks et al., 2020). Comparing our relatively brief experience with quarantine to the reality that many homeless individuals have spent decades dealing with the symptoms of isolation, makes it easy to imagine the depth of invisibility that one might feel. A simple greeting can make someone feel human and worthy of being noticed.

2. Keep a hygiene kit in your car.

A commonly requested item from those living in shelters or tent communities is socks. They get dirty, wet, and ripped quickly when living on the streets and become uncomfortable or absolutely unbearable. Whether you live in a warm climate like Southern California or New York City, the nights get cold and even those of us who go to sleep each night in a comfortable bed, report being unable to sleep when our feet are cold. Keeping a small bag filled with necessities like socks, a bottle of water, wet wipes, toothpaste, and a toothbrush in your car can be a huge blessing.

3. Clean out your closet regularly.

On your next donation run to Goodwill, consider saving a few items for the trunk of your car. Sweaters, jackets, coats, and blankets help keep people warm. The next time you come across someone on the street, ask if they might be able to use one of the items. They may not take you up on the offer, but they’ll be extremely grateful that you asked. But please keep in mind that the homeless have already been stripped of many dignities, so don’t give them items that are ripped or stained. We wouldn’t wear those and we shouldn’t expect them to.

4. Ask if you can buy someone a meal.

My husband and I were recently challenged by a friend who works with the homeless community. In a conversation about offering food, she criticized the idea of offering leftovers to a person experiencing homelessness. She wondered why anyone would expect another person (a stranger) to eat something that their germs were all over. Her words should have been a no-brainer to me, but unfortunately, they weren’t. I’ve definitely offered my leftovers to a human being who didn’t know me from anyone! My challenge for all of us is not to do that. When you’re on your way to a restaurant and you run into someone who looks like they could benefit from a hot meal, ask if you might order them something of their own.

These four simple ways to show compassion don’t involve having cash at the ready. But they do involve noticing a fellow human and moving towards them — not away from them. We hope you’ll serve your neighbor in these ways and more.

Have some ways that you’ve shown compassion that aren’t discussed here? We’d love to hear about them! Share them in the comments.

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