What do you do when you see someone holding up a sign, “Will Work for Food”? Do you roll down your window and give them money? Do you pretend you didn’t see them? Few people enjoy being confronted by homeless individuals, as their needs can often seem too overwhelming, but we all want to treat them fairly and justly. Here are some simple guidelines to equip you to truly help the homeless people you meet:
1. Never give cash to a homeless person
We will often give someone change out of our pockets to ease our guilt and get the person out of our face without engaging their real need. Too often, however, well-intended gifts are converted to drugs or alcohol–even when the “hard luck” stories they tell are true. If the person is hungry, buy them a sandwich and beverage; better yet, talk to them about their situation and let them know of some resources that can help (see #5).
2. Talk to the person with respect
Taking the time to talk to a homeless person in a friendly, respectful manner can give them a wonderful sense of civility and dignity. Far more powerful than just a kind word, your respect gives them a weapon to fight the isolation, depression and paranoia that many homeless people face.
3. Recognize that everyone is different
The homeless population is as diverse as the colors of a rainbow. The person you meet may be a battered woman, an addicted veteran, someone who is lacking job skills, an educated person who has encountered a crisis…and the list goes on.
4. Take precautions for your own safety
Some people living on the streets are criminals and fugitives running from the law. Therefore, always be prudent while talking with street people. Stay in areas where other people can see you and don’t take unnecessary chances.
5. Encourage the person to access local services
Riverside County and City have excellent resources available to those who are struggling but willing to address their problems and do what it takes to gain a stable life. Below are three immediate and fantastic resources for the homeless population:
Specialized Services 211 – Dial 211 from any phone in Riverside County to connect with a live person who will help you find the resources available to meet your needs.
If you see a homeless person or a homeless “encampment,” call The Riverside Homeless Outreach Team at (951) 826-5615 (not the police), and they will send someone to address the issue.
Contact Path of Life…
Path of Life Community Shelter
2840 Hulen Place, Riverside, CA 92507
Intakes on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 1:00pm
Path of Life Family Shelter
2530 Third St., Riverside, CA 92507
Intakes Daily after 4:00pm
(951) 275 – 8755
Contact Operation Safehouse at (951) 351-4418