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How to help a street-involved neighbour

You see someone who looks like they need support. They may be sleeping outside, looking for spare change or asking to clean your windshield. Here are four easy steps you can take:

Step 1: Say hello to your neighbour 
Street-involved community members often feel invisible. Here are some actions you can take when you see a neighbour in need. Show that you see them. 

• Make friendly eye contact.

• Say “good morning” or another pleasantry if you are passing by.

• If you see the same neighbours regularly, take time to learn their names.

• If a neighbour requests your help, pause and listen.

WHAT TO DO:
Be prepared to support. Consider carrying $5 gift cards for local coffee shops, coupons to restaurants, granola bars or little toiletry bags should you wish to help.

Step 2: Let a neighbour lead 
• If a neighbour asks you for help, find out what they want or need. They might simply be looking for a conversation. 

• Don’t make assumptions about what a community member wants.

• Remain judgement free about how someone may spend money.

• Recognize that street-involved neighbours know best what they need.

WHAT TO DO:
Cash without judgement. A common concern is if a neighbour might use cash to buy an addictive substance. Resist making assumptions and remember that addiction is a medical illness deserving of compassion.

WHAT TO DO:
Support neighbours in crisis. If you are approached by a neighbour in crisis, ensure your own safety first. If necessary, call your community’s non-emergency services line (3-1-1 in Toronto) or an ambulance.

Step 3: Offer to help or politely decline 
If you are asked for help, only you can decide if you have the interest and resources to fulfill a request. It’s okay if you don’t — just politely let your neighbour know. Here are a few examples of what you can say: 

• If you have change in your pocket you’re willing to share, you can say . . . “I hope this helps!” 

• If you don’t have change but are willing to buy something, you can say . . . “I don’t have change, but can I pick up something you’d like from here?” 

• If you don’t have an interest in helping, you can say . . . “I’m sorry, I can’t help today.” 

• If a neighbour hasn’t asked but you’d like to offer help, you can say . . . “Can I pick you up something you need today?” or “Would you like this [gift card to a coffee shop]?” 

Step 4: Learn about local services 

Many street-involved neighbours find shelter, food and care at local community agencies like Yonge Street Mission. You can help connect them to available sources of support. 

• Learn about community agencies in your neighbourhood. Find out if they have referral cards you can share. Download YSM’s Evergreen Centre for Street-Involved Youth card.

• Become familiar with Toronto’s 3-1-1 or your community’s non-emergency services line. You can call them to connect neighbours to shelters and more.

• Donate to or volunteer with a food bank, meal program or shelter in your community that street-involved neighbours rely on.

WHAT TO DO:
Support neighbours in public spaces. For you and your neighbour’s safety, only offer help in public spaces. Do not bring neighbours into your home—instead help find community services which offer help and support.

To learn more, visit www.ysm.ca/how-to-help-a-street-involved-neighbour. Together, we can support all of our neighbours and create friendlier communities for everyone! 

The Yonge Street Mission is a social services agency specializing in poverty-related challenges, which works closely with street-involved youth, families in crisis, adults experiencing long-term poverty and entire communities. They offer holistic programs and a pathway to transform the lives of community members living with poverty in Toronto.

Just a few facts:

• 11.2% or 1,690,000 Canadians reported experiencing houselessness in their lifetime.

• 10.5% have experienced hidden homelessness like couch surfing as they had no where else to go.

• Indigenous households were almost 3 times more likely to have been without shelter.

• Between 25,000 and 35,000 people are homeless on any given night in Canada.

• 62% of the homeless are males.

Source: Statscan

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