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Homeless Etiquette: Here's How To Not Be A Jerk To Homeless People

Updated June 14, 2019 34.0k views14 items

If you feel awkward interacting with homeless people, you may not be alone. This list breaks down homeless etiquette to help you navigate interactions with homeless people. After all, there's no reason to feel awkward - homeless people are just as human as the next person, and deserve the level of courtesy and respect afforded to strangers and passerbys. 

Cities with the highest rates of homelessness tend to be over-populated cities with warm temperatures, like Los Angeles, San Diego, Honolulu, and Las Vegas. New York City, Washington D.C., and Chicago experience their fairs hare of the homeless population as well. Unfortunately, these places have resorted to some inhumane methods to hide homeless in cities, such as installing spikes where people sleep and making less comfortable benches. 

With population rates rising and no signs of homelessness decreasing, knowing exactly how to socialize with homeless people is a valuable skill. Check out this list of do's and do not's make that next conversation with a homeless person go smoother for both parties. 

  • Don’t Avert Your Eyes And Pretend They’re Not Even There

    Photo: Rui Duart / Flickr

    If homeless people make you feel uncomfortable, your initial reaction may be to advert your eyes and walk right by. In fact, many people will simply pretend homeless people aren’t even there, simply because they don’t know how to deal with the situation. This can leave the homeless person feeling subhuman. As one man recounted, "It’s like being invisible. The non-homeless person almost never looks the homeless in the eye. If you just look a person in the eye and sort of nod, it’s the most respectful thing you can ever do."

  • Do Acknowledge Their Presence, Make Eye Contact, And Smile

    So, now you know that you shouldn’t straight-up ignore homeless people, even if they make you uncomfortable. But what should you do? Well, treat them like you would any other human being: acknowledge their presence. Look their way and nod your head, maybe even smile. Yes, smile. Offering a warm smile to a person living on the streets can make their day. Greeting people on the street is a normal and healthy societal behavior that shouldn't exclude homeless people. 

  • Do Initiate Conversation Through Questions

    If you have time to have a short conversation with a homeless person, it’s suggested that you initiate conversation through polite questions as opposed to assuming they want to talk to you. Contrary to popular belief, not every homeless person will be completely up for chit chat. It’s best to approach the situation through questions, which allow you to gage just how much this person actually wants you to talk to them.

    Of course, there are some questions that work better for others. You could start with an open-ended, "How are you today?" "Lovely weather, isn't it?" or simply, "Would you like to talk?"

  • Don’t Try To Make Any Weird Jokes

    If you are trying to initiate a conversation with a homeless person, it's best to not start it off with a weird joke. They’ve definitely heard all the weird jokes before and, news flash, they aren’t that funny. One homeless man recounted his experiences with jokesters, describing how they would say, "Can't get a job, mate?" and laugh. 

    Even if your joke if lighthearted, don’t make any jokes that can be taken the wrong way.