Most of us don’t have to worry about homelessness. I’m writing this curled up on my sofa, the Christmas tree lights are twinkling and I’m feeling very cosy.
In the Bible, Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan. He’s a guy who sees someone hurting on the other side of the road and instead of walking by, he comes over to help (Luke 10:25-37.) The UK’s streets are home to many hurting, desperate people who need to feel noticed and valued.
Someone I knew who slept rough for some time told me that his path to recovery started when a stranger stopped one day and asked him “How are you?” It took him by surprise. For once he was being spoken to like a normal human being and it made all the difference in the world.
So as a Christmas challenge this year, I want you to stop the next time you see a Big Issue seller or someone sitting on the pavement begging and say hello. I know it isn’t easy to know what to say or do, so here are my five top tips: (NOTE: these tips are for all year round, not just for Christmas!!!)
1. Start a conversation. Say hello, introduce yourself, ask their name. Talk about the weather or the film you saw last night. But if they don’t want to chat, that’s ok too.
2. Ask someone how their day has been. Every day may be a struggle, but perhaps today has been harder than usual – or maybe something good has happened – and if you don’t ask they may have no one to share it with.
3. Buy a Big Issue. You’d be surprised how many good articles there are! Plus the Big Issue scheme is to teach business skills and help people rebuild lives, so by buying a magazine you are investing in their future.
4. Ask people if they want something to eat. Giving money isn’t a good idea, giving food is. But please ask them what they want first and don’t be surprised if they are choosey – we all have preferences! Whether you sleep in a four poster bed or behind a supermarket, if you don’t like tomatoes you don’t like tomatoes! Alternatively you could direct them to the nearest food bank or homeless shelter.
5. Keep yourself safe! People who sleep rough have often lived through a lot of trauma. They may suffer from severe mental health conditions or abuse substances, causing erratic or dangerous behaviour. You must protect yourself: have a friend and an adult with you. Don’t give out your personal details. Stay in an open, public place and if you feel unsafe just finish the conversation politely and walk away.
A homeless person is still a person. Will you walk by on the other side or will you stop and say hi?