Homelessness is and always has been on the rise. We see the statistics in our local papers, on the news and with our own eyes in the streets.
Seeing the severity of the homeless problem in the media and in towns and cities across the United Kingdom isn’t enough to call us everyday people to action.
It’s easy for us to overlook homeless men and women that cross our paths day-to-day. Many of us rarely stop to find out that what they want, and what they need often goes beyond monetary value.
This article takes inspiration from Ed Kirwan’s TED Talk ‘The Simple Way Everyone Can Help the Homeless’.
We all have the power to make a difference and in very subtle and easy ways. TEDx Doncaster recognises the need for change amongst the local community, across the county and across the nation.
Here is how we can do our part.
How Can We Combat Homelessness?
We fail to realise how important our time is to another person. A greeting, a smile or even a look can be an illuminating factor in someone’s day.
Kirwan describes his encounter with a man named Richard, a tale that begins outside of an off-licence in Manchester. The exchange starts with the homeless man asking for money to buy a bottle of alcohol. As most of us would in this situation, Kirwan immediately labels the man as an alcoholic. However, when most of us would leave it there; Kirwan decides to venture a little further.
Two or three minutes into a conversation, Kirwan hears something that changes his perspective immediately. Richard explains how he would rather have someone sit with him for ten minutes than for someone to enter the shop and buy a bottle of vodka.
This is why it is vital for us to recognise how vital and how meaningful our time is to someone in a situation as dire as a person like Richard.
As a society, we struggle to acknowledge homeless people. We struggle to recognise their incredibly incomprehensible scenarios. We find it easier to focus on our mobiles rather than pay a moment’s notice to those who need it.
When we deal with difficult scenarios like the death of a close relative, for example; we often use humour to ease the pain and to help one another. When we deal with someone who is homeless we allow our guilt to consume us. We pass up the opportunity to comfort someone because we feel bad.
Why Do We Choose To Ignore The Issue?
There are three reasons why we choose to ignore homeless people we encounter in the street.
The first is that we find it hard. It’s natural for us to find it difficult to approach a stranger and engage with them, especially if that stranger is considered to look unpleasant, scary or have a bad odour. This does not mean that they should be considered as anything less than human.
The second reason is our judgement towards homelessness. This is part of our human instinct; to judge, to be aware of situations. For example, if we were out walking in the woods and we came across a bear, our judgment would tell us that this situation is dangerous. Although it is not to the same extent as life and death; we too judge people in the street. We allow ourselves to think it is okay to ignore homeless people and that we are doing the right thing by walking on.
The third and primary reason is guilt. This is the voice in our head that says “how can I interact with this person and then refuse to give them money?”. This is far from the case; our time is worth something. A single fragment of our lives can truly change someone’s day.
So What Can We Do?
We can be kind, we can acknowledge those that aren’t fortunate enough to have somewhere to rest their head at night. We can smile, we can say hello, we can let people know that they exist as a human being.
Talking to strangers is hard – guilt will always be a present factor; but you have the power to empower – to make a difference to someone’s day.
Ed Kirwan challenges all of us to do these simple things to eliminate the stigma surrounding homelessness. Acknowledge, smile, stay and chat if you have a while.