Monday, October 4, 2010


We’re counting down 10 weeks to World Homeless Action Day on October 10th.

This week’s big idea: Talk To A Homeless Man Or Woman

  1. What's Your Name?
    Treat the person as you would anyone else.  Introduce yourself and learn his/her name. 

  2. Are You Homeless?
    Don't automatically assume that a panhandler or person sitting on the sidewalk is homeless.  They may have a place to stay, but choose to panhandle due to lack of finances.  Even if they're not homeless, they could have a significant need.

  3. Where Are You From?
    A natural bridge into learning someone's story is to find out where they're from, where they've been, how they got here and how long they've lived in the area.  If they are new to the area, you might be able to give them helpful information about resources they could use.

  4. What Do You Need Most Right Now?
    The best way to help is to find the point of greatest need.  Is it food?  Shelter?  Sickness?  Transportation?  Clothing?  Addiction treatment?

  5. Can I Buy You Something To Eat Or Drink?
    Offer to buy a meal or a cup of coffee and eat together.  A meal can ease the flow of conversation. 

  6. How Did You Become Homeless?
    The answers will vary widely.  Be prepared to hear some painful stories.

  7. How Do You Survive?
    You might be surprised to find out where people sleep, how they make money and where they get food.

  8. What Would You Want Other People To Know About You?
    A question like this gives the opportunity to go deeper.

  9. What Do You Hope For Your Future?
    Homeless men and women are often short on hope.  Help them envision a brighter future for themselves.

  10. If You Could Have Three Wishes, What Would They Be?
    This is a classic question used by Mark Horvath in his interviews.  Watch a few of his videos to see how easy it is to talk to a homeless man or woman. 

There's plenty of other good questions and conversation starters out there.  What ones would you add?


    Anonymous said...

    How arrogant to assume that just becuase someone is homeless they want/need to spill their life stories to you. You have no right to ask such invasive questions as how did you become homeless or ho do you survive. These are intrusive questions likely to stunt any potential connection.

    Portland Rescue Mission said...

    These questions are not an interrogation, but suggestions for extending polite conversation.

    We serve hundreds of homeless men and women each day. Many are hungry for much more than food -- hungry for human connection and conversation.

    We find questions like these effective when offered in a spirit of kindness.

    Anonymous said...

    Thank you for this. I have always felt completely shy and unequipped to speak with people who may be experiencing homelessness beyond more than a "hello" or "I'm sorry, I don't carry cash" when approached by a panhandler. It is already hard striking up conversation with a complete stranger, but in these encounters on the street I feel at a loss for words – and yet my heart grieves for the isolation that people experiencing homelessness must feel. Thank you for providing a tool to help me overcome my shyness and open up a dialogue with someone who may need heartfelt listening more than anything.

    Portland Rescue Mission said...

    Striking up a conversation with a stranger can be intimidating. Glad these questions spark some ideas and courage for you. We find that honest friendship is almost always welcome.