The Least One Can Do: Make Eye Contact With The Homeless Person

If you only ever do one thing to improve your interactions with the homeless people you meet, let this be it.

Invisible People

It’s something you take for granted every day. Connecting with people during a conversation, meeting their eyes, and feeling seen.

For you, it probably happens dozens of times a day, but for people living on the street, it’s a rare occurrence.

More often, people shuffle by quickly, looking absolutely anywhere but at the invisible person they’ve chosen to ignore.

It’s a common behavior, but what’s strange is the number of people who don’t fully realize what they’re doing. Stranger still is the people who think the other person won’t notice they’re being ignored.

The whole, “oh my, I’ve just received a very important text that requires my full attention for the next 30 seconds” routine isn’t as convincing as you think it is. Especially when it’s been done by the last 20 people who walked by.

Making eye contact with homeless people instead of ignoring them is safe, easy, and costs absolutely nothing. Once you get good, you can even throw in a smile, nod, or friendly wave.

It’s amazing how far a simple acknowledgment of another person’s presence can go toward helping that person feel seen rather than invisible and preventing dehumanization.

If you only ever do one thing to improve your interactions with the homeless people you meet, let this be it.

The Harm of Withholding Eye Contact

By now you might be thinking, “what’s the big deal?”

It’s hard to imagine that not engaging with one person on the street is causing any real harm. After all, you pass plenty of non-homeless people every day that you don’t acknowledge or make eye contact with.

Surely this is overblown, right?

Well, yes and no.

You’re right that there’s little to no harm in one single person ignoring a homeless person trying to interact with them. It may be rude, but it’s not going to make or break anyone’s day.

But the thing is, it’s never just one person.

You can’t really appreciate the scale of the problem unless you experience it yourself. But most people behave exactly the same way, and the effect is cumulative.

Imagine a day where none of your coworkers would look at you, your family all ignored you when you tried to speak to them, and even strangers on the street went out of their way to avoid you.

How would that feel?

Now imagine it happening every day.

After a while, homeless people who are subjected to this treatment begin to feel as if they were ghosts watching the world but not able to fully participate in it. If they try to strike up conversations, their words fall on deaf ears. They’re ignored, dehumanized, and invisible. ...
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