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Formerly homeless folks explained how to actually help the homeless. Here are 12 ways to try.

In a viral Reddit thread, one user asked how to really make an impact on a homeless person's life. From systemic change to compassion, the answers were very insightful.

Formerly homeless folks explained how to actually help the homeless. Here are 12 ways to try.
Image Source: (L) Alex Wichman / Getty Images (R) Makadegwan / Reddit

When trying to help people in need, we tend to assume that we always know what's best for them. However, if you really want to know how to make the most meaningful impact, it's probably best to just ask them. That was probably what Reddit user Conmaan was thinking when he asked, "Former homeless people of Reddit, what can we do to help homeless people the most?" When he posed the question to subreddit AskReddit, his post took off. Soon enough, thousands of formerly homeless folks decided to share their thoughts. If you feel gracious enough, take these tips and help someone in need in your own community!

1. Food is always a good option



Takeout food. I used to hold door open at restaurants for people and ask them for any leftovers. Many did and many bought me entire meals, but management often kicked me off before they could give it to me. - ilikeplumpgirls

2. Ohana means family, and family means no one gets left behind


I've helped a homeless lady find her family after thirty years. She had NO IDEA how easy it is now. Just ask if they need anything, they'll tell you. :) - RoadFlowerVIP

3. Smiles go miles


Being homeless makes you feel like you're invisible. So for me a smile or any acknowledgement is welcome. Some of the best help I got wasn't cash, but people's care/time. - sassylittlespoon

4. Just some rest


Every situation and circumstance is different, and the needs of an individual vary greatly. I was always very appreciative of work trades, often doing landscaping/basic maintenance/farm work for food. Quick to establish a relationship if you have a good work ethic, and people often wind up tossing in some cash. For a lot of people, food and hygiene products are greatly appreciated. End of the day though, the number one thing I appreciated was just not being bothered by people while sleeping/sitting/resting. Getting kicked awake, displaced by cops, never being able to lie down, etc takes a toll on your body and the lack of sleep destroys your mental health. - spicethyme-continuum

5. Period poverty is real



Tampons and pads are in my box of donations for the rescue mission tomorrow. It's something that an article in a magazine brought to my attention. Things people take for granted. I'm guilty of forgetting how much I have. I've never been homeless but I have been broke enough to steal toilet paper from the grocery store bathroom and go days without eating, and be concerned about where my pads and tampons were going to come from. - MostTiredMama

6. R-E-S-P-E-C-T



First and foremost, treat them with dignity. I was homeless last with my partner and the thing that killed our spirit was people being unnecessarily rude. If I am in that situation you can bet that I'm doing my best to get out of it as soon as yesterday because it's really not nice begging for food,being cold and walking for what feels like eternities looking for literally any kind of employment opportunity while trying to look decent and trying to be positive. If you can't or do not want to help you don't need to make snide remarks because homeless people are still people. - potter981

7. Chicken and good company



My cousin lives in Chicago and is a musician and bartender. She didn't have much. But a while ago she used to go to Sam's club (or whatever their equivalent is) to get the rotisserie chickens at the end of every Sunday. She would bring them to one of the nearby homeless villages and feed them, and play music for them and read to them. According to her, they seemed to enjoy the company. - skyrites

8. ID and transport


I worked with the mentally ill homeless population. Two things that are important, are ID and bus/train tickets. Services are all over the city and all federal assistance needs identification. This is a few dollars but getting the paperwork can be a nightmare. I worked with people who were impacted by hurricane Katrina and their birth records were lost due to water damage. F*cking sucks.  - thepigfish82

9. Systemic change



I was homeless due to addiction problems several years ago. Looking back, what ultimately helped me was the criminal justice system that court ordered me to attend drug treatment. There was also a lovely nonprofit that provided cheap housing for after I got clean. These nonprofits usually take donations for furniture and whatnot, and you can get a tax write off. - ItsBrieTimeBabyy

10. Never give up


Speaking as a bf to a wonderful woman who was formerly homeless: don't give up on them. This should apply to people in general, but especially to those who are down on their luck. It's taken some time and some hoop jumping, but she has her own place now. It's stable housing with stable finances. She's still learning and doing her best. I'm really proud of how far she's come. - OtterlyAwesome

11. An opportunity to learn



I was homeless for six months after fleeing across the country from an abusive relationship. i was lucky to find places to stay for some weeks at a time, though i always found myself in crappy situations.
Anyway, what helped me was getting enrolled with the local community college. i used my refund money to pay upfront for a few months of rent. I eventually stopped attending classes so that turned into a huge debt, but it got me back on my feet at least. so that's what helped me, personally.  - enchantedbaby

12. Everyone has different needs


Theres no one answer to this. I was homeless in the late 90s as a teen run away. I met a lot of homeless people. Some are there by choice and some circumstance. Many of the kids I knew were running away from abusive homes, some just wanted to party and do drugs. Some of the older homeless were homeless by choice. They didn't want a job and a home etc. They wanted to be free. Many had drug problems, many were mentally ill. This was all before a whole new homeless crisis began when former middle class were pushed out by rising rents and stagnant wages after the recession. Everyone has different needs. - mezlabor 

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