How/if to help a man who is homeless
February 22, 2015 3:40 PM   Subscribe

A man living in his car at the park near my house refused my offer of $50 saying it would make him feel worse to accept money and that he is in touch with the council to access homeless services. I feel like he is my neighbour and it is playing on my mind that he is sleeping there in that situation. Can I at least offer to do some laundry for him, or ask him if there's some other practical way I can help (food? or something) or should I respect his dignity and mind my own business?

I'm a personal trainer and regularly train clients at that park. I only noticed him because I parked next to his car one day and realised that someone was living in it. I don't want to make him uncomfortable and of course want to keep myself safe, but it just doesn't feel right to just go to work there every day knowing that he is there and that I could help in some way (and also, that had I not had a family that was able to help me financially, could have ended up in the same situation a few years ago!).

What's the right thing to do here?
posted by lifethatihavenotlivedyet to Human Relations (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Sounds like your neighbour, right now, doesn't want special treatment or anything that feels like charity. I think, don't offer anything more, for now, than a "hello" and maybe a conversation when you see him. Maybe donate time or money to a relevant local organization instead.
posted by cotton dress sock at 3:45 PM on February 22, 2015 [9 favorites]

It doesn't sound like he wants your help. However, my uncle used to let a homeless person sleep in his car. Each night he'd unlock the garage and his car. The man would come sleep in the car. In the morning the man would get up and lock the car and his garage on the way out. If you have a warm, safe, and free place for him to park, that might be appreciated.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 3:51 PM on February 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Unclear from what you've written if he prefers to be left alone or just was put off by your attempt at charity. If the latter, next time you see him you might try interacting with him as you would a neighbor, as opposed to as a homeless dude. Less offering help, more just friendly interest - between tangible help and doing nothing, there's room for being someone else who gives a damn about his well being, without any further actions attached. That said, if he's living out of his car he may also be concerned about someone calling the local authorities and forcing him to move; car-dwelling doesn't sit well with many municipalities, and a seemingly friendly inquiring neighbor can be the prelude to an officer knocking on a van door.
posted by deludingmyself at 3:56 PM on February 22, 2015 [14 favorites]

Does your windows need washing? Floor mopped? Basically any odd jobs he could do to earn the $50?
posted by Sophont at 3:56 PM on February 22, 2015 [8 favorites]

Maybe just start by saying hello and asking how he is when you see him. If you happened to have some extra food or water with you, you could offer it.

Maybe give him a chance to figure out you're not going to give him trouble, and you might be able to offer him some work or more substantial help down the line.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:59 PM on February 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: FYI in our chat I warned him that his tyres had been marked with the date and to scrub them off so he didn't get in trouble which was when he said he's already spoken to council and they know he's there and homeless so he knows I'm not going to report him.
posted by lifethatihavenotlivedyet at 5:02 PM on February 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

I don't know if it's reasonable to assume he has or has access to a phone, but just offering him a card with your phone number in case he ever needs anything might be a non-intrusive way of offering help.
posted by Dalby at 6:00 PM on February 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

I agree with the suggestion to simply start by being friendly and striking up a conversation again if you have the opportunity, you know, don't go knocking on his car window or anything. I think there's no harm in also offering a simple favor like doing a load of laundry or charging a mobile phone. If you're comfortable with it, offering a place to park or a shower might be appreciated but only if you feel cool having a little closer contact with this stranger. He may turn you down or feel like you're pushy, but no real harm done as long as you don't keep pestering him.
posted by dahliachewswell at 6:51 PM on February 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

I agree that being friendly and non-intrusive is the way to go. Perhaps offer some water or a snack next time you see him, but generally, just be polite as you would to any other neighbor. If he expresses some tangible need you can help with (fuel for the car, maybe?), then feel free to offer.

If there are any stores nearby that sell gift cards and might be useful to him (for example, a gas station that sells sandwiches, a coffee shop, etc.), perhaps a gift card to one of those places might be helpful once you've established a rapport. You could frame the offer as "Do you like [business name]? My [relative/employer] gave me a gift card there for that place, but I never go there, and I'd hate to see it go to waste. Would you like it?" (He will probably guess that you bought the card for him, but may be more likely to take it if it's not presented as a handout.)
posted by Owlcat at 7:19 PM on February 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

I commend you on your neighbourliness. I also understand and respect his pride. Any chance you could take him a hot beverage or a chilled flavoured milk if you are at the park in the morning?

Another idea along the same lines: visit your local cafe and see if they will let you buy five hot drinks for him, with a card you can give him which he can redeem each time he wants one.

Tell him it's not for him, it's for you; that you need to pay some stuff forward...
posted by Kerasia at 8:20 PM on February 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Seconding offering him some odd jobs. Car washing, mowing the lawns/tending your garden, think of stuff that would have some dignity in work that could help you out. He could be the sort of chap (I've known many) that want nothing to do with charity, even if they could desperately use it, but isn't afraid of some hard work. Try not to make it sound like you're doing a favor, but he's doing you a favor, and be earnest in your need (if you can).

If he's within range (and you have good wifi that reaches to his car), you might want to offer him some wifi service; it doesn't cost you anything (and he'll realize this), and he might have a device that can use it (I've met many a homeless person that owns a cheap laptop). You can easily test the range of your wifi by connecting with your phone and walking towards him. ("Hey, if you park twenty feet down the road, you can reach my wifi if you want, my password is 'letmein', my wifinetwork is called 'xyz'").
posted by el io at 9:45 PM on February 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

If he doesn't want charity it's because he doesn't want to be seen as a charity case. He wants to be a person to you, an equal, which he is.
So stop thinking in terms of stuff you can give him or odd jobs you could pony up. Treat him like a neighbour that you want to get to know better. Once you're on speaking terms it might be easier for you to offer and him to seek help.
Of course, if there is something you genuinely need done, do ask him if he wants the job.
posted by Omnomnom at 1:24 AM on February 23, 2015

Homelessness is really isolating, so I agree with the suggestions to speak with him as you would another neighbor going through a hard time. Just letting him know that you're available if he wants someone to talk to is a decent start.

I work in homeless services and some things that outreach workers deliver are: gift cards, nonperishable food, over-the-counter medication, and handwarmers (if you're in a cold climate).
posted by torridly at 8:21 AM on February 23, 2015

I haven't been in this man's postion so this is my imagination at work. If I was living in my car I would feel like I was coping with my circumstance as best as I could just as any homeowner does. I would not want donations from random strangers nor offers of make work employment as these would make me feel like people think less of me, think they know me in a toxically assymetrical way. I believe rare is the person who can interact with somebody living in a car without condescending in thought or word. I am not trying to call out hypocrisy or any such but just saying that it is hard, until you know someone, to speak to them as an equal.

In short, I would not want the fact the I lived in a car to be the greater portion of the sum of who I am, and would take offense when people behaved as though it were.
posted by Pembquist at 10:52 AM on February 23, 2015

Does your windows need washing? Floor mopped? Basically any odd jobs he could do to earn the $50?

It's generally best not to let people you don't know into your home. I have a friend who got into a very bad situation with a homeless man whom she hired to do gardening work because she felt she should do something for him.

Not saying this guy's the same - just that, while others have emphasised earning *his* trust, I think there's also an assessment to be made of how far to extend yours.
posted by Pallas Athena at 2:08 PM on February 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

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