Why empathy is important when supporting the homeless


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Do you know why empathy is so important when it comes to supporting the homeless? It’s because empathy encourages connection. When we practice empathy, we do our best to understand and experience the world from another’s perspective. The more we understand a person, the more able we are to offer support that’s centred on their individual needs. In this post we’ll look at why empathy so important when working with people experiencing homelessness.

What is empathy?

Empathy is the ability to understand and feel what someone else is feeling, without experiencing it for yourself in that moment. It is the capacity to see the world from another person’s perspective and walk in their shoes. It allows you to view life from their living conditions and to feel what it feels like to be that person.

Why empathy is so important when offering support.

Empathy is key when supporting people experiencing homelessness. It helps us put ourselves in their shoes, remain non-judgmental and prevents us from minimising another person’s feelings.

It doesn’t minimise their feelings.

When we empathise with someone, we don’t try to find a silver lining, or point out that things could be worse. These responses rarely make someone feel better. While it’s a natural reaction to want to alleviate someone’s pain, it negates the feelings that person is experiencing. Instead, we listen to their feelings and let them express their emotions.

The best example of this is an interaction one of our outreach workers had with Ronnie (real name not used). Ronnie was sitting on a wall looking distressed when one of our workers walked by. She approached him and asked if he was okay. Ronnie broke down in tears and said she was the first person all day to talk to him. Our worker sat on the wall while he shared his story and sadness. She offered no answers, just listened. After, he thanked her for simply being there for him.

It’s non-judgmental.

Empathy is incompatible with judgement. Why? Because, when we practice empathy, we are observing a person instead of judging them. What kind of day are they having? How are they feeling? What life experiences have they had? Instead of assuming we know why someone is on the streets, we understand that there may be circumstances we don’t know about. They may have suffered childhood trauma or be dealing with mental and physical ill health. By remaining non-judgmental we can show true empathy for that person.

It puts yourself in their shoes.

Most importantly, empathy puts us in another person’s shoes. This is vital when supporting someone who is homeless. Many of our clients need to attend appointments, fill out forms and make phone calls to services when trying to get help. They often spend hours on hold, waiting for answers and being asked personal questions again and again. Imagine trying to do all this when you’ve not had a good night’s sleep in your own bed. You may have drug and alcohol dependencies and mental ill health. Without a phone, watch or diary it’s hard to track appointments. And you’re hungry because you’ve got no money for food. Empathy helps us understand their frustrations and look at ways we can help and be there for them.

Empathy is vital when it comes to supporting the homeless. It ensures we are non-judgmental. Empathy helps us understand what someone is feeling and puts us in their shoes. By using empathy we can ensure we are supporting each individual in the best way possible during their journey.

We're working hard to provide support to people experiencing homelessness in West Yorkshire. This winter, we’re expecting to see an increase in the number of people needing our support. We can't do this without your help - please support us today.

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