In nearly every big city, you will find a large population of homeless people or people that aren’t well off and find themselves performing various acts on the street to help make some small change in addition to their low income. Personally, when I am in the United States, I don’t normally think too much of the homeless people on the side of the street. I tend to just avert my eyes and walk past, hoping to go unnoticed and unbothered. But why is this?
As humans, we all have a sort of conscience that tells us what is right or wrong. As you walk past someone homeless, it is most likely that you know that it is wrong for them to be there on the streets, hungry and alone. Chances are you probably feel a bit guilty for passing them by as well. So why do some people ignore our conscience when we pass by the homeless? The truth is, there are many reasons.
A lot of the time, it seems as though we ignore the homeless simply because they are different from us and we are uncomfortable addressing the fact that we have so much more than they do. It is hard to acknowledge class differences, but homelessness can so easily happen to anyone, we really aren’t all that different. Others feel as though the homeless are lazy and don’t deserve handouts, and although this may be true in the rare case, it is not true for everybody, and it ruins the reputation for those who truly do need help and are trying to find work. Finally, it seems as though many believe that the homeless only use the handouts they are given for alcohol and drugs. Unfortunately this is sometimes the case, but again, it is not the case for all and those who really need help are poorly affected by these generalizations.
This extreme negativity and discomfort that we feel for the homeless in the United States is also true of people in the United Kingdom, but there are a few differences in the homeless populations between the two. During my time here in the United Kingdom, I have learned that the homeless are a lot less intruding than they are in big cities in the United States such as Chicago or New York City. They don’t force themselves on you or ask for money explicitly. Most of the homeless population in the United Kingdom tend to sit quietly with a sign, wish you a good evening, or simply sleep on the streets with a hat out for change, hoping that some passerby will be generous enough to throw in some loose change.
I think it’s this quality in the homeless here in the United Kingdom that made me really learn to respect and notice the homeless more than I do at home. Their silence here is a more effective and saddening plea for help than the begging and forcefulness you see in the United States. No one should have to feel so alone and defeated or be condemned to silence simply because of their economic status. Everyone deserves the chance to climb the ladder in life. This is exactly why I think the homeless in the United Kingdom are treated with more respect, at least by American tourists. Also, when Americans are on vacation they feel more guilty when passing the homeless because they are wealthy enough to afford an overseas trip, but can’t spare change for someone who has no place to sleep.
However, if we were to take into account that the homeless at home are just as desperate as individuals here, would we change the way we act once returning home from our trips? Really it is all a matter of communication. The way the homeless in the United Kingdom communicate that they need help seems to be so much more effective than the strategies employed by the homeless in the United States. But why is this?
It all comes back to human nature. As humans, we don’t like feeling forced to do things and we hate confrontation, which is why a homeless person approaching you on the street and asking you for money seems more terrifying of a prospect than it should. Our immediate response to these “threats” is to simply walk away. But that’s when the guilt sets in. When it’s too late already. The homeless population in the United Kingdom has a more effective (and polite if I’m being honest) strategy of asking for money. They have found that all they need do is sit in silence and set out a hat or simply wish someone a good afternoon or night. By treating people with respect and in a polite manner, this type of communication is why the homeless population of these cities are more successful in getting the money they are hoping for.
Not all people in the United States are pushy and forceful when asking for money, though. Plenty of them have great communication and employ similar techniques as the homeless population in the United Kingdom. These people tend to do more than just sit there, however. They will usually make use of a talent, skill, or other asset in making money. Several people will play instruments, blow bubbles, or do magic. Anything to entertain and get people’s attention in a positive way instead of a negative one. People are more likely to give people money for something creative or entertaining. The most effective act I’ve seen to date, though, was by a man and his dog. You will see plenty of homeless people on the side of the street with their dogs in order to gain sympathy and tug at heartstrings. Many people feel the need to donate for the dog rather than the person.
But this particular man and his dog had a foolproof system. The man would play music and out a hat in his dog’ mouth. His dog would then proceed to carry the hat around in his mouth walking up to passersby on the street. How anyone could resist tossing change in this poor dog’s hat and giving him a pat on the head is beyond me. I sat and watched as this man made upwards of twenty pounds in a matter of minutes by employing this genius strategy. There is no better communication than tugging at someone’s heartstrings and taking advantage of pathos to get what you want or need from people.
When it comes down to it, people are really just looking for connections to other people. If you can create a connection with someone else through writing a sign or asking for money to help feed you and your dog, then you have created successful and effective communication. If you can’t connect with other people and make them understand what you are feeling, your chance at being successful goes down. As seen in the homeless community, connecting with complete strangers requires incredible communication which proves that these people are able of contributing to society and being successful if only they receive a little bit of help to help them get there.