Should I give money to people who are panhandling? Why do some people experiencing homelessness stay on the streets instead of going to a shelter? What causes homelessness in the first place?
If you have ever asked these questions, The Night Ministry now has a Good Neighbor Guide on our website that provides some answers.
"A lot of our supporters and community partners regularly ask us questions about how they can be a better neighbor to people who are experiencing homelessness," said Brittany Caine-Conley, Congregational Engagement Manager at The Night Ministry. "And our clients have shared with us how they often feel invisible and ostracized in their own neighborhoods."
"We created this guide to stop the perpetuation of myths about homelessness and to help prepare our communities to engage with our houseless neighbors with respect, kindness, and solidarity," she said.
The guide suggests placing dignity at the heart of your interactions with community members who are unhoused.
"That means leading with empathy and compassion, prioritizing individual autonomy by allowing people to make their own choices, and practicing inclusivity by including our unhoused neighbors in conversations, activities, and actions that impact their lives," said Caine-Conley. "If we do these things, we will be able to address a lot of the causes of homelessness while supporting each other as community members."
The 13-page guide provides statistics about homelessness in Chicago and explores its causes. It debunks common myths about homelessness, including the misbeliefs that people chose to be unhoused and that houseless individuals don't want to work. The guide also discusses some of the reasons why people do not stay in shelters, including a lack of available beds, privacy concerns, and religious or lifestyle requirements.
The guide also outlines actions that you can take to be a better neighbor, including taking the time to get to know unhoused individuals in your community and supporting respectful and inclusive solutions to homelessness in your neighborhood.
So, what should you do when someone asks you for money?
"The decision is up to you," said Caine-Conley. "There is nothing wrong with giving people money if they ask for it. If you choose not to, for whatever reason, or are unable to, make eye contact and decline politely. The main thing is to honor the humanity of the person in front of you."