Engagement starts when you notice the people that are all around you. Don’t get lost in your own world. Take your headphones out of your ears. Look around. Make eye contact with strangers. Smile. Nod. Say hello. This will inevitably keep you present and available.
Enter into a conversation:
- Lead by asking for the person’s name. Repeat it. Say “Nice to meet you ‘Joe.’”
- It’s important that the person hears you calling him by name.
- It will also help you remember his name later on.
- If you end up praying for the person, do so by name.
- Offer your first name. There is no need to share your last name right out of the gate.
Listen. Bring nothing into your listening. Just Listen.
- Don’t just tell her what you think, actually hear her.
- Even if she is telling a story that you think, or even know, is impossible, simply give her the chance to say her piece. Take everything she says as the “gospel” truth.
1 Corinthians 13:7 says that “love hopes all things” so always hope she is telling you the truth, unless what she is asking of you requires some action that you feel is unwise or unsafe.
Ask questions. Learn something about your new friend.
- “Where are you from?” “Do you have family in the area?” “Are you a sports fan?” “Do you believe in God?” Show interest. Be quick to laugh at his jokes, but don’t force it.
- The more interest you show, the deeper you’ll go. Your conversations will be as shallow as your ability to demonstrate that you care about his or her story.
Be Clear About Personal Boundaries.
- Just as you make it clear that he or she can be honest with you, don’t be afraid to be honest about personal boundaries with the person you just met. If someone asks why or seems annoyed that you are self-protecting, you can always say, “I just met you! I don’t know who you are!”
- You are allowed say things like, “I won’t do that.” “I can’t do that” etc…
- Don’t give out your personal information (phone number, address, email, social media) until you have an established relationship with the person.
EVEN THEN, be wise and don’t do or share anything you wouldn’t with someone you just met at the movie theater or bar.
Be Clear About Physical Boundaries.
- Don’t make anyone feel trapped. Never approach someone with more than 2 people. Don’t hover over an individual who is sitting on the sidewalk or laying down on a bench. If necessary, kneel down or ask for permission to sit next to the person.
- If you have the option, approach folks with someone of the same gender. Many homeless women have had terrible experiences with men and will open up more quickly with a female volunteer.
If someone asks you for money….
- Feel free to say that “I’m sorry, but I have a personal policy about giving money to strangers.”
- WHY? Monetary exchange is almost always a poor foundation for a healthy relationship.
- If someone is panhandling, ask for permission to take some of his or her time.
Don’t assume that he or she wants your company.
By asking, you will show the person respect as a human being and he or she will be more likely to hear what you have to say or be open to your company.
Giving stuff away.
- Always prioritize 2-way conversation over bulk distribution. Be wise about how you give things away in high population spots like public transportation stations, busy tourist spots, or in front of a drop-in center or emergency shelter. Don’t make a scene or you might just get a scene.
- If you have socks, blankets, or toiletries to give away, simply ask the person if he or she would be interested. Don’t assume that he is.
- If he or she says ‘no’, ask if he/she might know someone who would be interested.
- If the person expresses a need that can be met by running to the store and buying something small, feel free to do so. Never give the person cash for the same item.
- GIFT CARDS ARE GREAT (McDonald’s or Dunkin Donuts allow the man or woman to purchase something that will give her a safe, warm place to sit and enjoy a meal after you leave).
Don’t wake anyone up. It’s just rude.
- Homeless folks sometimes average 2-3 hours of sleep a night. They are often awakened by police and security guards and moved indiscriminately. This makes sleep precious.
- Feel free to observe whether his chest is going up and down. Make sure his lips are not blue.
IF you think someone may not be breathing or his lips are blue, call 911 immediately and loudly say, “excuse me, sir!”
Don’t leave items next to a sleeping person.
- These things will probably just get stolen anyway.
- And if someone is already stealing the pair of socks (or item you left), they might help themselves to the person’s backpack or wallet, with all their ID’s in there, while they’re at it.
Again, relationship is the goal.
If the person seems intoxicated, high, or in an unpredictable mental state….
- Do not extend the conversation. Just be kind and compassionate, but assume that this is probably not the best time to make a heart connection over coffee.
- If the person seems completely out of control or volatile, please call 911 or 311 depending on how severe the situation might seem.
Use common sense. Don’t call 911 because there is a homeless person talking to himself.