Community West Blog

Why Do People Ignore The Homeless?

Posted by Community West Foundation on Wed, Mar 26, 2014

Admittedly, most of us are guilty of passing by someone in need without a second thought. It's easy to write them off as someone needing of a hand out, and a large percentage of people choose to ignore those in serious need of help. But being homeless is a serious reality that affects millions and requires attention and assistance. In this blog, we investigate the reason why we turn a blind eye to the homeless.

The Reality of Poverty

For many people, ignoring the homeless is easier to do than acknowledging them. Mark Horvath, founder of the video blog Invisible People, summarizes it best:

“It’s not that people are bad, but if we make eye contact, or engage in conversation, then we have to admit they exist and that we might have a basic human need to care. But it’s so much easier to simply close our eyes and shield our hearts to their existence.”

Due to the constant denial the homeless receive when asking for help, most admit to feeling invisible to the people around them. Poverty is an ugly reality and when confronted with it, many of us choose to look away, not wanting to accept a reality that doesn't align with our own.

The important thing to remember is that most of the chronically homeless suffer from a mental or physical disorder. They are less likely than others to find themselves a job and get the help they need on their own. They need more encouragement than others might to get themselves to a better place.  While many ignore the homeless because they feel giving them money is a hand out, what they truly need is to be recognized as people who need a hand up to get out of poverty.

How to Help

To help the homeless, instead of giving them spare change, buy them a cup of coffee, food or bottled water. This takes the burder off knowing where your money actually ends up, and shows the individual you care enough to take the time to stand in line somewhere to place an order, rather than just digging through your change. You taking the time out can help them feel like they matter, and provide the encouragement they need to continue in the right direction. Making direct eye contact, smiling at them, and offering words of encouragement are ways you can make a positive impact on them.

Ask them if they are aware of resources that can provide assistance. Some local organizations that are available to help include:

  • Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless (NEOCH)—NEOCH has relationships with many organizations that serve the homeless, including the Salvation Army, Veterans Administration and legal assistance for the homeless. If you’re concerned about the health or safety of a homeless person, call NEOCH at 216-432-0540. Their outreach team will respond within 24 hours.
  • Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry Men’s Shelter at 2100 Lakeside offers housing for up to 350 men per night. Call 216-696-2715 for assistance.
  • The City Mission, 5310 Carnegie Ave., has crisis centers for both men and women to provide shelter and meals. Contact them at 216-431-3510.
  • is a nonprofit providing affordable housing in the Cleveland area.
  • Metanoia Project provides meals and social services throughout the year, as well as shelter three nights a week from mid-November through April at the old St. Malachi School at 25th St. and Detroit.

Community West Foundation supports numerous charitable organizations that help the homeless in Cleveland transition to independence. The Community Service Alliance, Joseph’s Home and the Malachi Center are just a few organizations dedicated to helping Cleveland’s homeless.

Making a Difference

The next step can make a change not only for one homeless person, but for many who live on the streets. Take the time to learn about the risk factors and common causes of homelessness to develop a stronger understanding of what living in these conditions is really like. Conduct research, then consider giving to the charities and organizations focused on resolving homelessness at the local level.

There are many ways you can help Cleveland's homeless population. Download our free guide, "20 Ways You Can Give to Those in Need,” to explore inspiring alternatives to traditional giving.