“Every homeless person I met listed one thing as the absolute worst thing about being homeless: being ignored. There is something utterly dehumanizing about everyone walking past you, making a concerted effort not to even look at you. No one said hello, or smiled. .” – Rhiannon Winner.
It means loneliness is inevitable.
We can feel lonely in the middle of a crowded room even if it’s only temporary. How much worse it is when it happens in a busy street but you have no home to escape to and no way to overcome it – hour after hour, day after day.
Loneliness is disastrous for your health – mental and physical
The Borough of Havering in East London published a fact sheet about loneliness. It relates to “normal” people and not just the homeless. Multiply the effects by 10 to appreciate what it’s like on the streets. Well worth a read.
It seems that lack of normal social contact can impact our health like smoking 15 cigarettes a day according to one researcher.
It’s so easy to be made homeless – it could happen to you
A survivor of street homelessness wrote an excellent account of what it’s like.
“You actually learn, first-hand, how easy it is to become homeless. You learn it can happen to you. And your kids, with you. You learn that addictions, mental illness, or economic changes are the root causes.”
Walking past – is it so hard to just say Hello?
We know that ignoring homeless people on the street is a habit now. It’s born of a desire not to engage, a fear of being begged for money, discomfort and embarrassment. We can list many reasons to justify it – but sometimes it nags at our innate goodness.
We (and I mean me and most people I know) would like to do something in general to help the homeless but not right now, not at this moment, on this street, with this person.
That habit can be tough to break but the rewards can be real win-win, for us and the homeless person. And that’s just by making eye contact and saying Hello as you pass. Maybe a smile.
A tiny start can open the way for achieving more
This short article is focussed on doing just one little action – not ignoring homeless people.
But it’s a big start because it breaks the ingrained cycle of the “ignore habit”. It starts with being ready to do it, having a think and deciding to give it a try.
In future articles we will explore many ways you can help even more – all of them simple but very effective.
Not all of us are equipped to work actively with homeless people but we can do a lot in our own quiet way to ease the pain for just one person even if it’s just once a week.
Simply decide today to do it – to say Hello to a homeless stranger on the street. Smile too.
Oak trees grow from tine acorns. Let this be your acorn moment.
Jenkins, J. (Aug 2019). What are the first things you notice when you become homeless? Quora. Retrieved from https://www.quora.com/What-are-the-first-things-you-notice-when-you-become-homeless/answer/James-H-Jenkins
NHS (Mar 2015). Loneliness ‘increases risk of premature death’. Retrieved from https://www.nhs.uk/news/mental-health/loneliness-increases-risk-of-premature-death/
Public Health Havering (Nov 2015). Mental health impact of loneliness & social isolation. Retrieved from https://www3.havering.gov.uk/Documents/Public-health/PH/docs/Mental-Health.pdf
Winner, R. (Nov 2015). The Worst Thing About Homelessness Is What You’d Never Expect. The Odyssey Online. Retrieved from https://www.theodysseyonline.com/worst-homelessness-expect