conversations with homeless people

Andrew Rose (
Wed, 8 Apr 1998 15:17:44 -0700

cross posted to homeless people's network, please cc:, if responding.

>P.S. to tie this into Food Not of the guys in Cleveland is
>*amazing* in his ability to talk to homeless people, esp. when they make
>no sense.  I'm not very good at it.  One time some guy was yelling at him
>because there was no meat...and he said, "Well, we have artichoke hearts
>and heads of broccoli!"  *smile* I'm not very good at talking to the ones
>that make no sense.  I never know what to say.  :(  I feel sad (this is
>for you, Andrew, I'm going to try it) I feel sad when I can't talk to
>people who seem to me like they  make no sense because it makes me feel
>helpless and I want to learn how to understand them.

This is a cool story, artichoke hearts, what a crack-up! : )

I served for a while before I noticed that I was uncomfortable starting
conversations with people.  It was far easier to simply serve and say
"you're welcome" etc. than reach out.  There were also a handful of
negative experiences that demanded a lot of patience and listening.

One thing I avoid is "are you homeless?" as an opener, or "how are you?"
which seems a little stupid.  "What's up?" is OK, but not real deep.

I like to ask "have you heard of Food Not Bombs?" 'cause a lot of times we
serve without our banner or our literature 'cause things are hectic and we
don't have our acts together so well.  This is usually met with "of course"
or "is that who brings this food?" etc.

A lot of times I sort of stand around and see if there is someone I know
and ask then what's up or if I can remember what we talked about before
I'll start talking.  Sometimes people approach me to ask what we're about

I have to acknowledge that some people scare me off.  It is TONS easier to
be conversant after people have at least had firsts and it is clear there
is enough for everyone.  Tensions are lots higher when there is scarcity
and hunger.

Once past the ice breaker I am always interested in seeing if people are
interested in volunteering, we have very few people that we serve actually
become servers and volunteers which is not a big goal of ours but relevant.
I like to hear how long people have been in SF and what their experience
is, with looking for work, getting assistence, etc.

This is a great question, any ideas?