NewsWould you rather give food or money? Psychologist explains...

Would you rather give food or money? Psychologist explains how to really help the homeless

The homeless depend on the solidarity of their fellow human beings – a roll or 50 cents can make a difference. But what is the best way to help?

Frankfurt – Anyone who lives in a major German city should be aware that not everyone in this country is lucky enough to have a roof over their heads. The harsh reality in which many people live is revealed at train stations, busy squares, in shopping streets or under bridges: they set up sheltered corners with cardboard and blankets, push their belongings from A to B in shopping trolleys and also ask passers-by to come and passers-by for donations.

678,000 homeless people lived in Germany in 2018, estimates the Federal Working Group for Homeless Aid (BAG W). In fact, 41,000 lived “on the street” without any accommodation, although the number of unreported cases is likely to be higher. Recently, the number of homeless people in big cities has increased. What is the best way to help them? Various organizations give tips.

Help for the homeless: What is the best way to donate?

Doing something good for homeless people with a donation, there can be nothing wrong with that, one might think. However, psychologist Lange points out in the Berliner Zeitung that there is also a disadvantage if you bring donations directly to the sleeping quarters of homeless people: “The homeless person may not have any motivation to come to us. Then we can’t reach them and give them help.” It is important not to lose contact with the people living on the street, so that psychological help can also be provided, as in Lange’s case.

In addition, Lange adds, donations are often made in places where there are known to be many homeless people, for example at Berlin’s Zoo S-Bahn station. However, people in lesser-known places also needed help. However, she does not get there. Aid institutions such as the railway station mission could serve people who need something more easily if donations were given to collection points .

Homelessness: Better to eat and drink or other donations?

For those affected, it can sometimes not be a nice experience if they are given a sleeping bag without comment, although they may not need one, remarked Lange in the interview. “I’ve seen cars with tents and mattresses just thrown out, without a word, along with some leftover food. Well intentioned, but perhaps not always well thought out,” says Lange.

Viola Lange is just as critical of simply turning up at a place to sleep with food without being asked as simply unloading donations in kind there. “You don’t know anything about this person, whether he likes what is brought along, what his need is at all. And they invade a private sphere,” the expert points out. You should first ask the person if they want anything at all and what they like . In addition, one should only pass on what one would accept oneself , advises the Malteser on their website. “It’s amazing how many people donate things that have already expired,” they quote the pastor of the Hamburg homeless facility Alimaus.

Helping the homeless: refer to food banks

It is different when the homeless, for example, specifically address people on the S-Bahn. Then you can offer something to eat or drink , but keep in mind that not everyone likes everything. One should not be irritated if the offer is rejected. “Maybe they just don’t have good teeth to eat an apple, or they don’t like apples at all, or they’ve been handed three before. Homeless people are people with preferences – like all of us,” quotes the Berlin newspaper Lange.

In addition, in Berlin, for example, there are enough opportunities for those in need to get groceries. This means that one can also refer to the daily food distribution in the respective city instead of giving a donation oneself.

Help for homeless people: Should you donate money?

Of course, homeless people – like everyone else – can do a lot with money because it gives them the opportunity to choose what they spend it on. However, many people are skeptical and do not want to support possible addictions with monetary donations . However, Viola Lange warns that not everyone on the street has an alcohol or drug problem. That could be prejudice. “That being said, an addiction is a disease. An addiction has to be satisfied, otherwise withdrawal will set in, and it’s terrible,” Lange explains in the Berliner Zeitung.

Diakonie Germany also advises against judging. Homelessness can have different reasons and those who find themselves in such a life situation need help. However, homeless people often simply want to spend the money on things that are commonplace for people who are not homeless: “The person may feel like treating themselves to something special, maybe a pizza,” says psychologist Viola Lange. She also hears from clients who save up for a cheap room so they can sleep and shower in peace.

Homelessness: What is the best way to deal with those affected?

What is the best way to approach homeless people if you want to offer help? The psychologist Viola Lange from the Bahnhofsmission Berlin has tips for this too:

  • be at eye level with the other person, if necessary crouch down
  • to introduce oneself
  • Asking the person’s name to be polite and establish commitment
  • Sie the person to show appreciation
  • Explain your own motivation, for example: “I saw you lying here and I was wondering if you were cold or hungry.”
  • wait for the answer and ask what the person needs – whether you ultimately want to fulfill what they say is up to you
  • respect if the person doesn’t want to talk
  • Keep at least an arm’s length away – to avoid stepping on the person and to protect yourself

In general, the organizations appeal to people who want to help to treat the homeless with respect and appreciation. “In addition to the daily loneliness, the feeling of being invisible and therefore no longer part of society is exhausting,” write the Malteser. Even a “hello” or a friendly nod can show respect. “Many homeless people are happy when they are simply noticed and given a smile or a friendly word, for example,” assures the Salvation Army. And being nice doesn’t cost anything, fortunately. (Ines Alberti)

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