Five Reasons You Should Not Help the Homeless.

1. You have some old ripped threadbare clothes you’d like to throw out and you just know the homeless are desperate for anything: No, they’re not. Just like you and I, people experiencing homelessness also like to wear clothes that don’t look like they’ve been dragged backwards through the mud. They also like their clothes not to have holes in them, old dogs sleeping on them, moths chewing on them or mould growing off them. And they also like elastic that works. So, if you have old threadbare clothes, ripped, torn, smelly clothes, throw them out. Everyone has a right to dignity with clothing and homeless people are no exception. They are not your garbage disposal unit.

2. You want other people to think better of you: Homeless people are not there for you to wear your help for them like a badge of honour. They’re not the new trend, and they’re not your trophy. If you want to help them so you can make life a little better for them, that’s great. If you’re doing it because you want the kudos for it or you want people to think you’re fabulous, just don’t. Maybe learn to juggle eggs or something. Let people ooh and ahh over that and pray one doesn’t land on your face.

3. You want to teach your kids about homelessness and the struggles other people have. Honestly, that really is a great thing to do but homeless people are not fodder for your child’s project and they’re not the vessel for their learning. Perhaps do some research on the internet about the statistics of people experiencing homelessness? Or maybe discuss some reasons for homelessness. You could sell some old toys and donate the money to an established organisation who helps people experiencing homelessness and have a discussion about the work the charity does. Perhaps invite a speaker to your child’s school? Homeless people are not there to be stared at or pointed at while your child looks on in horror as you tell them to look at that man and how horrible his life is. There are many ways to donate and volunteer that will directly help people sleeping rough, but taking your child out onto the street to hand out your donations is not one of them. There is also the matter of drug use and street violence that is very real. You don’t need your child to see a homeless person to learn about homelessness any more than you need to show them a dead body to learn about death, or a couple having sex to learn where babies come from.

4. You have a great idea and just want to get out there and help the homeless: It’s great that you want to help, it really is. It’s great that you have this idea. We’re always looking for new ones. But it’s not great when you start up your new idea without having done your homework. Time and again we see people start initiatives with no idea of what they’re doing, or that their great idea might be already happening out there. People have often never met a homeless person and have no idea of their struggles or what bought them to the streets in the first place. People with great intentions and no knowledge can hinder the work that other organisations are doing. Volunteer first. Go with the experienced workers, get to know the process, get to know the people while you have the experience and guidance of those who know and who have been there before. But please don’t go unprepared and unarmed with no knowledge. It might work out ok, but chances are it won’t and you could do more harm than good.

5. You like the idea of volunteering: While this is great, volunteering is one of those things where the thought doesn’t count. You can’t sign up to be a volunteer because you like the idea of it. You have to actually go in there and do the hours. You’d be surprised at how often this happens. People love the idea of volunteering, but not the actual volunteering part. You can’t call yourself a volunteer for the homeless when you never show up to do the volunteer work. Every organisation welcomes good volunteers, some even rely on them. But no organisation likes the person who keeps saying they’ll come and help, but either doesn’t show up or doesn’t work when they do show up. Don’t volunteer for street help if you plan on standing there all night talking to your buddy whilst completely ignoring the homeless you’re there to help. Don’t sign up if you know you’re just going to cancel. If you sign up with good intentions and it just doesn’t work out for you, that’s not a problem but please tell the organisation you have signed up with that you can’t continue. Don’t leave them hanging wondering if you’re coming back or if they can rely on you. Volunteer rosters are a lot of work. You annoy a lot of people when you continuously don’t show up. Don’t think they don’t notice. Please, just be honest. They’ll appreciate it.