When you encounter a homeless person on the street, how do you normally react?

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Do you pass by them as quickly as possible hoping to avoid any form of engagement? Or do you give a half-hearted smile while stating how and why you are unable to assist them?

Back in October of 2014, I and several other members of the CE team hit the streets of downtown Toronto to hand out lunches to some of those in need. As part of the initiative, we also sat down with a number of them to get a feel for their experience and to identify if there were any ways for us all to better assist them in getting back on their feet.

To our surprise, it wasn’t food, clothing, or shelter that they needed most; it was genuine human interaction. We need to remember that these individuals are human beings just like us, and they deserve the same level of respect that we ourselves have become accustomed to receiving.

The wonderful people behind Rethink Homelessness have put together an eye-opening video that restores humanity to some the world’s less fortunate. They took to the streets of Orlando and asked members of the homeless population to share one fact about themselves that no one would guess by looking at them.

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Whether it was the fact that they had previously built robots, once had a scholarship as a professional athlete, or were the victims of domestic violence, every person had something remarkable to share.

While many of their stories were certainly astonishing, the fact that we are so surprised by them shows just how skewed our perception of the less fortunate has become. So easily we attribute their hardships to personal failure — alcoholism, drug addiction, laziness — rather than to unknown circumstances, and we treat them accordingly, rather than with the respect they deserve.

My hope is that this article and video will shift the way you view and interact with the homeless in your community. Even if you are not in a position to assist them financially, you can uplift them in other ways, the simplest of which is taking the time to talk to them.

Not everyone will be open to your interest, and that’s okay. Challenge yourself to give everyone, regardless of their station or attitude, the dignity they deserve, and see the kind of responses such respect creates. Even if people don’t want to talk, a genuine smile can often go a long way toward improving someone’s day.

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