Making a Difference

May 6, 2024

How Everyday Empathy Can Help People Experiencing Homelessness

Homelessness is an ever-growing concern in communities across the country. Even as legislators and policy makers push for long-term change, we can all make a real impact locally through simple acts of compassion. By meeting people where they are – right on the streets in our neighborhoods – we have the power to improve the lives of those facing homelessness. But what are some practical ways everyday people can engage at the ground level?

Getting involved with StandUp for Kids can have an immediate impact. In addition to shelter, housing support, education support, street outreach, and much more, we offer essential services to homeless youth who often lack the basic life skills many of us take for granted. “These kids don’t have any tools in their toolbox,” says Justine Palmore, Executive Director, California Region at StandUp For Kids. We provide guidance and education on practical day-to-day necessities including using public transportation, doing laundry, grocery shopping, and budgeting. Our staff and volunteers work every day building relationships with youth and empowering them with the skills and knowledge they need to thrive. Volunteering with StandUp for Kids can include one to one mentoring, providing services and training, distributing needed supplies like hygiene kits, and more.

People experiencing homelessness can often feel like they’re ignored or invisible in the communities they are surviving in. It’s highly likely they don’t feel like community members at all, and it’s not unusual for people to be targeted with derogatory speech or even physical threats while surviving on the street. As StandUp for Kids’ Marketing Committee Chair Natalie Hogg explains: “On the streets, human connection and basic kindness can be lifesaving.” Making eye contact, smiling, and saying hi to someone shows that you see their humanity and demonstrates respect. If you see someone regularly or have a comfort level with them, you can also introduce yourself by first name, and ask their name if they are open to sharing. Just stopping to ask “How are you?” can contribute needed human connection.

Conversations can also provide guidance toward more tangible actions. You could buy someone lunch, bring someone lunch from home, or offer to take them to get a meal. Pre-paid transportation cards, if they’re available in your community, are a valuable resource. A wide array of gift cards are now available for restaurants, convenience stores, and even local businesses like laundromats, all of which ease the challenges of daily living. If someone you’re speaking with lets you know directly that they have an immediate need, like clean socks or a warm hat, you can provide that for them.

Even though homelessness is a complicated and complex issue requiring big-picture solutions, we each have the power to take action. Through community groups, volunteering, donations, and small acts of compassion, we can provide support and forge meaningful relationships with those facing homelessness.