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Helping The Homeless: How To Combat Apathy On The Streets

Helping The Homeless: How To Combat Apathy On The Streets


It was a good few years ago on a cool afternoon in Bristol when I met a homeless man living on the streets. I asked him his name. His eyes filled with tears as he told me, “I can’t remember the last time someone asked me my name. I’m Paul.”

This was the beginning of my education in apathy—a poisonous ignorance riddling humanity, and a big victims of this poison are those sleeping rough. 

Not only do people become homeless, but they also become nameless. Even faceless. As busy humans, we can be guilty of continuing our busy, important days, forgetting the very fabric of existence: that we are all human.

With that said, I’d like to share a few ways we can help the homeless through conversation and creativity to inspire connection.

1. Give your time

There are many kind souls sharing a warm drink or bite to eat, but how many people are handing out their time? There was a point in my life when I didn’t say, ‘Hello’ unless I had something physical to give. Now I realise that saying ‘hello’ is being human, and that ‘hello’ can be more powerful than handing over £1 or a coffee. I see that the homeless need to be reminded that they are beautiful souls, too. 

One of the most meaningful things to share with someone on the streets is your time. A conversation with an exchange of names and right away is the connection this person is looking for—just to be human, like you.

2. Be creative

There is another aspect of being human that is saved just for our species on this planet: creativity. And I think this is the pistol available to strike through the hard shield of apathy that lingers above our cities and towns. 

Creativity as a channel for healing and expression is invaluable, but can we use it as a tool for connection on streets? 

For all those minutes spent being ignored, and being conscious of the apathy exploding from every step taken by a stranger, there can be distraction through drawing, or writing, or reading. There’s our first ‘tick’. Less time spent thinking about being ignored. More moments spent being present. 

Gift a book

If you are comfortable donating a book (a wonderful tool of escapism), we potentially enable the next shy soul—who wants to connect but doesn’t have something physical to give—to strike up a conversation. Can we create connections for future passers by gifting a book? I believe so.

Let’s say you gifted a Harry Potter book (with a surname like Longbottom of course I’m a fan…). Someone who is usually unable to say hello is now more likely to feel empowered to connect to me because they’re ‘reading my favourite book’. 

Put pen to paper

Gift a notebook and pens for drawing, and perhaps a soul-filled artist would notice a swirl of joy on a page.

Perhaps not everyone would say they are the ‘creative type’ (side note: I refute this notion, because what are we as humans if not creative creatures?). However, a puzzle book makes a great gift—a game changer for the Sunday Times reader, enabling a chat over the joy of clues or numbers. 

3. Ask

Simply start with your name and theirs. Because this is the beginning of our identity, so let’s allow everyone to feel themselves too. I forget how many times my name gets said throughout a day. Imagine being able to count it on one hand, maybe even one finger. Tomorrow, that finger could be you. 

As I touched on earlier, I do believe creativity is where humanity begins. So if you’re walking past someone every day, why not stop to ask if they like to draw, or read, or write? And then give a gift of humanity. The gift of connection—a pistol against apathy.

Here are a few other things to keep in your bag, especially during winter. For the moments you would like to gift beyond your smile and conversation:

  • Got a spare pair of warm socks, wooly hat, gloves or a scarf? Pack an extra in your bag to give away on your walk to work.
  • Do you have a bra you no longer wear? There are many homeless women without this support, and from the chats I’ve had with some kind women sleeping rough, they would love a bra. 
  • Pack an extra banana or piece of fruit in your bag so you can give one away—because why not?
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