How to show respect for people facing homelessness


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Honestly? It feels more than a little disappointing to be writing these words. A whole blog dedicated to the respect we should be showing to those facing the most demanding challenges as they endure living life on the streets. 

But here we are. 

As we see numerous posts across social media claiming to promote ‘good deeds’ and ‘raise awareness of homelessness and mental health’, it’s clear that further education and understanding are needed. It’s becoming all too common for people to parade the experiences of the most vulnerable people in our society for their own gain. 

The stakes and the risks are simply far too high for us not to speak out. 

Everyone deserves dignity and respect. Regardless of what their living situation looks like, regardless of the mental health issues they may be dealing with, and certainly regardless of the capacity that complete strangers choose to deem they do or don’t have. 

Our outreach team 

Before we tell you a little more about how you can best support those facing homelessness and endeavour to make a real change, this feels like the perfect opportunity to discuss our outreach team. 

We post a lot of case studies - all authentic situations and experiences, but all anonymised. There are no social media posts identifying those our outreach team work with. There are no names, no pictures with faces and no expectation from any of our outreach workers that they’ll be rewarded with thousands of personal likes, clicks, comments and shares. 

It’s quite the opposite. Our outreach team is determined that the dignity of the people they work with is respected, their privacy is protected, and they’re safeguarded. There are no gold medals here, and our outreach team wouldn’t want them if there were. They just want to do the right thing. 

Doing what you can to respect and support those facing homelessness 

Here are a few ways to help and support those people who are sleeping rough or experiencing homelessness. 

Acknowledge their existence

Even if you’re unable to help, simply saying hello or giving somebody a smile as you pass them on the street can go a long way. People facing homelessness often deal with a lack of human contact, which can be incredibly debilitating for their mental health. 

Loneliness is a common problem, often leading to feelings of worthlessness and poor self-esteem. 

Never breach their privacy 

It goes without saying (or at least it should) that taking photos of someone living on the streets or publishing their story on a social media platform for gratuitous purposes is inherently wrong. 

At Simon on the Streets, we’ve seen far too many cases where photographs of a vulnerable person have been taken without permission. Although this might seem harmless, such photos will publicly reveal their identity and could even put them in danger. Consider, for example, someone fleeing domestic violence or other threats to their physical safety. 

Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity.

Accept that consent and capacity are complex issues 

‘But he gave me his permission’. 

‘He wants to do his bit to raise awareness’. 

‘She said it was OK to show her face and tell her story’. 

It’s not unusual for consent to be given in the moment, only to be regretted at some point further down the line. Those facing life on the street are looking for ways to change their future and take control of their own lives. For some, this could be getting a job and, for others, reuniting with families. 

Posting their story, picture, and experiences jeopardises those possibilities; it doesn’t create them. Just because someone has capacity and gives consent doesn’t remove your responsibility to do what’s right. 

Appreciate their unique story 

It’s important not to group all people facing homeless together. Each person comes from a unique background and has their own story to tell. 

When we forget to treat everyone as an individual, we’re not just dismissing their story - we’re diminishing their past experiences and the current challenges they face. That’s why fair and respectful co-production is at the heart of everything we do here at Team Simon. 

We never pressure our clients to tell us their stories, and we will never reveal their identities in our case studies. Our outreach workers treat everyone with the respect and empathy they deserve. 

Educate yourself

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all model for homelessness. Whilst rough sleeping is often portrayed as the most common type, there are many different ways homelessness can present itself, including “hidden homelessness”. 

This includes:

  • Staying in temporary accommodation, such as a shelter or hostel
  • Sofa surfing
  • Living in unsuitable housing

In a survey carried out by Crisis, 92% of respondents said they’d experienced hidden homelessness. This type of homelessness is often overlooked, leaving countless people trapped in unstable and unsafe conditions with a complete lack of support. 

Take a look at our stories to learn more about the different forms of homelessness. 

At Simon On The Streets, our outreach workers are out night and day, connecting with vulnerable people in Leeds, Bradford and Kirklees. Our work is intensive and ongoing and tackles hidden homelessness and rough sleeping. 

But most importantly, it involves connecting with the people we work with on a human level and helping those facing homelessness take back control of their lives.

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