If You Could Ask Them Any One Thing...

Updated on April 18, 2012
R.D. asks from Richmond, VA
22 answers

… what would you ask a homeless person?

Like have you ever seen someone bumming change and wondered 'What's their name? What's their story? How did their life end up like this? Where are they from? Do they have family?'

If you could ask a homeless person anything, what would it be? What would you want to know?

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So What Happened?

I appreciate the answers so far, but wouldn't you want to know their personal stories?

Featured Answers


answers from Dallas on

My husband is a vet. When we go to the veterans hospital, you run into a lot of homeless people. He seeks them out to talk to. He loves to sit under a tree talking to the "old heads." He says the old cats know what lifes really about and he likes to get thier advice or just listen to thier stories. He always introduces himself, states his branch of service then asks thier name and branch of service. He does it out of respect without even realizing how much it means to them. You see thier whole face light up and they stand a little taller and prouder. Then they usually spill thier story without having to be asked. I think It's that human connection that says - we are not that differant and you are still a person worthy of respect.

8 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

When we serve downtown we are told not to ask personal questions.
So we ask how they are that day. We let them talk and respond with statements that let them know we are listening. We ask them if they enjoyed the meal. I try to find out their names, if they servedin the military, if they lived in VA the whole time. Open ended questions th. at don't pry too much

2 moms found this helpful

More Answers


answers from Norfolk on

There are a million and one ways to end up in the street.
Most of us are 2 paychecks away from the streets ourselves.
Lose a job, unemployment runs out, can't find work, bills pile up, you lose the house/you're evicted.
There have been beggars as long as there have been people and they will always be with us.
Asking them about their story is kind of personal, and there's quite a few mentally maladjusted people on the street along with the alcoholics, drug addicts, runaways and everyone else.
Some might tell you the truth, some will lie, some will pick your pocket.
They don't want to be judged.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

Oh my gosh...I don't know that I could ask anything other than how can I help. We were so close to being on the streets when I was a teenager and if my extended family hadn't helped my parents and us out we would have been. My dad was a newly retired CDR in the Navy, but that pay alone will do nothing for a family of 7...one in college.

We were driving in DC on Saturday and the little girl with me told my daughter all homeless people were bad people who didn't want to work. I quickly told her that was so far from the truth. For some of them, maybe, but not all of them. You'll find all types of people become homeless, and it was hard to hear them be stereotyped that way.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

What have you eaten today and can I help you find a place to live or work? When I had the money and was in an area where homeless were seen I would keep subway gift cards on me in the amt for a footlong combo. I was a restaurant manager and my GM's ideas were give people that NEED jobs the jobs - he would hire homeless to work in the kitchen - he even got one into the YMCA. When Katrina hit (this was in TX) we hired many of the refugees and offered the military discount to anyone with a Louisiana/Mississippi ID. So, I know I can not fix them nor can I make them not homeless (and some PREFER to be homeless) but I can get them a meal and I was once in a position to aid in offering them a job. When I was in middle school one of my best friends at the time's family became homeless, everything was taken from them in an instant - it happens. My mother said that my friend could stay with us, her brother also had a friend who's family took him in (or she probably would have taken both in) and the parents slept in their wagon for about 6weeks while they found new jobs, worked up enough money for an apartment and some basic furniture, it was then that I realized how easy it can be to go from something to nothing.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Pittsburgh on

I might ask them what they'd like to tell me about themselves.

And of course, if there was anything specific they needed right then.

I think any O. of us could ask a homeless person our questions at any time.
Mostly, these people want to be looked in the eye and treated like human beings...not a sideshow class of people!

R. D.....are you "cooking up" another book!???

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Providence on

I have met many people in my field who have been homeless. Their stories are stories that not many would be willing to openly share. Some are heartbreaking. I can tell you that I often sit with them and talk with them, share a lunch. Sometimes giving them hope and humor is better then having them reflect on their past mistakes/experiences/tragedies... Letting them know that their situation is only temporary if they are willing to work hard, etc. Finding them appropriate help and services, etc.

I will share that they are survivors. I once worked with a man who had lived in a cave for one year. His story is one that will always stay with me.

My first question usually is, " What's your favorite type of music" There answer is usually a very good indicator on what kind of person they are, and their character.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

My question would be How could I help you get off the streets.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Seattle on

I would one ask them what they LOVE most about being on the street. And then if they have trouble finding answer for that question...I would ask them how I could help them get off the street.

Never assume that a homeless person is that way and dislikes it. I know quite a few that have chosen to be homeless for the mere purpose of having less.

I have gotten to know a good portion of the homeless community around me working as an activist. The one thing I have come to find to be true is a homeless person likes being looked at in the eyes.

I met a guy who had some mental health issues. This was about six months ago now. Anyways, the only way he judged people was by whether or not they would look him squarely in the eye. Said it was because he only felt human when people could do this towards him.

From that day on I make a point to meet everyone's eyes.

Alot can be said in a simple glance and a smile.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Philadelphia on

Gosh--I want to be rich so I can help them. Or atleast well off, because hearing their story would make M. bummed and want to help more.

I volunteered a lot in HS and id the soup kitchen in a bad area and loved it. I'd listen to their stories and understand them. I'd want to know their story and what their hopes and plans were for getting out.
When I was in gradeschool on up I always wanted to have enough extra money to have an apartment and take in a homeless person or family for a set time and help them get it together and then they would help the next person and transition out..i realized it wouldn't always work adn some would regress but i wanted to do drug tests and help the ones who seemed like they could be helped. I wish I had money!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Seattle on

I've wondered about homeless people I often see----generally speaking I see signs of homeless vet, retired vet, so on and so forth. Part of me wonders if indeed they are a vet they should've been given plenty of help; I know this is not always the case. I offer food, have volunteered in many homeless shelters over the years and have heard some great stories. I don't have one question I'd like to ask only because I realize that everyone varies greatly. Now, I'm feeling guilty I have not volunteered for the homeless in quite some time. :( When I as a kid I gave a homeless guy money, just a dollar, for a beer because he was honest about it and didn't try to lie or hide what he wanted. I watched him walk into the 7-11 and pick up a beer with the other money he had been given. I appreciate honesty from people, homeless or otherwise.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

I often wish that I had an endless supply of resources to help as many of them as I can. No one should be homeless, hungry, on the streets. I don't care WHAT circumstances or bad decisions got them there.

One question I would ask... "What do you need the most?" So I can go to the nearest store and buy it for them.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Seattle on

I mean, every person (homeless or otherwise) is different, so I guess I don't have a blanket answer.
Yes, I like hearing people's stories. I have trouble getting from one place to the next (on time) because I like stopping to talk. I guess any bit of story someone wants to tell me is like a treasure-gift. It's really up to the other person what, and how much, they want to share. There are a lot of very hard stories out there and sometimes talking isn't what a person is ready/able to do.

When getting to hang out with under resourced populations, I find there is a lot of trauma, untreated mental illness, self medication/addiction, and feeling of stigma. I don't know. I guess I've learned a lot about myself by talking to others, but if I try to force it, I don't get to hear what I needed to hear.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Appleton on

What happed to you and how can I help you?

Several years ago I met a homeless man who hit the streets after he lost his job. He had been an accountant, lost his job, couldn't find a new one, his wife divorced him, his house went into foreclosure...... There was a part of me that wanted to grab him by the shoulders and shake some sense into him. There had to be more to the story than he told. But I learned the hard way that many people who are homeless became homeless because of one small thing thaqt could have been fixed if they had acted faster. The man I mentioned could have found a job but wouldn't accept something that payed less than he felt he deserved. He like many of the homeless may have been bi-polar and could no longer handle the stress of day to day living. His symtoms may not have been acute until his job loss.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from St. Louis on

When I see a homeless person the first thing that runs thru my head is, "that is (or was) someone's baby". I can't imagine any one of my kids begging on a street, how that would break my heart. I guess I always wonder, "is there not a better alternative?".

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

i tend to move into things elliptically so it would probably be something along the lines of 'what's your favorite book?' or 'what was the last song that got stuck in your head?'
i dunno. some people are probably eager to share, and others are probably tired of being judged and questioned. but i'll bet there are some great stories out there.
there was a young woman at a busy intersection where panhandlers often work. she was wearing a gypsy skirt and lots of scarves, and was carrying a backpack, a tiny dog, and a sign that said 'hungry hungry hippie.'
i gave her $5 and wished i had a sammich to share. and to hear her tale.
but i just gave her the $5.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

I had a friend that was homeless for a week - just to see what it would be like.

As per conversation with a homeless person when I was in college, sometimes people are homeless because they just really don't like living in homes. True story.



answers from Tallahassee on

I wonder all the time when I see homeless people. I wonder how long they have been on the street. I wonder if they used to have a home and a family. I wonder what happened that put them on the street. I wonder if they are mostly responsible for their homelessness, through making poor choices, or if there were circumstances that they couldn't really controll that led to them being homeless.

One of my stepdad's brothers and his wife are now homeless. I pitty them, but their case is one in which they really brought it on themselves. My stepuncle's wife has never worked or been willing to work and now she's trying to get on some form of disability so she can get handouts from the government. They used to own their own home, but they sold it and moved and blew the money they made from it. They ended up renting for quite a while and then they had to move in with family because their money ran out. They moved back and forth from state to state staying with different family members (my parents included) until they burned their bridges and were no longer welcome. They have stayed with my parents more than a few times eating their food, using their washer and dryer and laundry detergent, etc. without ever saying thank you even once. If they would have helped out around the house or even been the least bit appreciative they would have been allowed to stay longer. The last I heard, they were camping because they had nowhere to stay. Also, my stepdad saw them recently and he said that my stepuncle's wife took $10 they made from selling something to go buy kitty litter. Are you effing serious? You are homeless and living outside in a tent and your first priority, when you get a little cash, is to buy kitty litter?



answers from Muncie on

First question. "Can I help you?" or "What can I do to help you?"

Then maybe something a little more personal.


answers from Dallas on

I usually ask if they are hungry, if they say yes, then ill buy them somethign to eat, if they say yes but then ask for money, ill pass. I want to know what are you doing with the money, dont say food cause I offered to buy you food. Some of them are honest and say they want to buy a drink, or something to smoke, and yea you get nothing from me. I dont support bad habbits. There are some homeless people who need help, and some who dont want it. and There are alot of "homeless" people who are not homeless, just think if you can get 100 people to give you a dollar and buy you somethign to eat a day, for 4-5 hours, you just made 100 tax free dollars, and this does happen, i seen it with my own eyes. So I usually just keep driving and Ill give to firemen, or the kids in their rotc uniforms.
to many bad experiences, This lady asked me at the courhouse one day for some money to get on the bus, she gave me a long heartfelt story, little did she know I had a wallet full of free bus passes I had gotten from my school. I gave her one, and she threw it away when she thought I wasnt looking. she wanted money. for what, I dont know.


answers from Jacksonville on

I would want to know how they got there...so I guess "their personal story" as you put it. How does it happen, ya know? Do they have no family? Did they eschew help at some point along the way, or did no one offer them any help.
What part of the system/safety net failed them?

I have an uncle who has mental issues...not sure exactly what it is classified--the family never discusses details. But he goes off his meds because "he doesn't like anybody telling him what to do" or whatever, and then can't function, gets violent and refuses help.

So, yeah... I'd kind of like to know HOW they got there... what the road and it's particular potholes looked like.



answers from New York on

of course. i always want to know 'your' story. a human connection does not mean just hey how are you not really paying attention to 'you.' i always wonder about people's stories. we all have them you know. it makes us who we are.

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