This is definitely not an easy question to answer. Sometimes it doesn’t seem to matter how much public education exists, people have developed stereotypes and prejudices very early on in life and it’s hard to break them. As a society we also tend to generalize and project bad experiences broadly so one negative interaction with someone experiencing homelessness becomes indicative of all homeless people.  Yet the pathways into and out of homelessness are unique for every single person.

So…what can you do?

1) Speak Up

When you hear someone making disparaging remarks or stating myths and false information it’s up to you to step in (understanding that there are times when personal or professional safety may prevent this).

But when possible say things like:

  • “I don’t believe that’s a true fact. Actually….” and then provide the truth. See Homelessness 101 for some basic info on homelessness.
  • “People don’t choose to be homeless. We should provide help for them.”
  • “Wouldn’t you want someone to help you/your sibling/your child/your parent if you/they were homeless?”
  • Housing solves homelessness. Shouldn’t we try to get people into housing instead of focusing on their ‘problems’?”
  • “It doesn’t matter what they do with the money they get from panhandling. I don’t ask how you spend your money.”

It’s important that you serve as an example and don’t let remarks go by. Just like addressing racism, sexism, homophobia etc. we need people to stand up when others might not be able to do so themselves.

2) ‘Edumacate’ Them

There are lots of resources on the Homeless Hub for people who are willing to learn about homelessness. If the person you’re trying to convince isn’t willing to put in the effort to learn you might have to do it for them.  Gather information and present it to them calmly at appropriate moments.

Some starting points on the Hub:

  • Community Profiles – if your municipality is one of the 61 “designated communities” (those places who the federal government has identified as having a significant homeless problem and provides funding to) then we have a summary of statistics and links to research just about your community. Sometimes the more personal link can help.
  • Blogs – Our blogs are super easy to read. And they’re fun. Mondays always focus on a solution, Wednesdays feature an infographic and Fridays are about asking and answering questions in ‘Ask the Hub’. Sometimes we feature guest blogs as well.
  • Homelessness 101 – as mentioned above this section is great for getting the basics down.
  • The Topics section introduces the reader to informative summaries about issues. The Solutions section does the same but is focused on the answers/solutions to homelessness. Both have links for further reading for those that want to delve deeper. 

3) Hold a Workshop

Find out if your workplace/school/faith group/service club could host a speaker on homelessness. There are researchers and community organizations across the country that would love to share their knowledge with you.  This could be open to the general public or to the broader community.

Some communities have speakers’ bureaus (agencies can also find past clients) with people who can speak about their own personal experiences. My personal favourite is The Dream Team who share their journey of homelessness, poverty and mental health and show how housing saved their lives.

4) Use Videos

There are a few different styles of videos that can help educate people about homelessness. Many people are attracted to this style of learning and they can easily be shared on Facebook, Twitter or other social media. Start regularly sharing videos with your friends’ list and gauge their reaction to know which kind they appreciate the most. There are a few different styles…

Short and Entertaining

Short videos with funny or poignant messages often have the potential to go viral. They can then draw people in to the stories and encourage them to learn more.

A few of our favourites are:

Cardboard Stories/Homeless in Orlando by Rethink Homelessness is probably one of the most powerful videos I’ve seen in awhile. Filmmakers asked people experiencing homelessness to write down a fact about themself on a piece of cardboard.

Have the Homeless Become Invisible? In this social experiment, unsuspecting people walked by their relatives pretending to be homeless. Would they recognize their family members? Or have the homeless become invisible? This is part of a campaign called “Make Them Visible” by the New York City Rescue Mission.

The Real Homeless Man Experiment is based on a premise that I’ve used in a past course I taught at Ryerson with similar results. In this video Sandy, a homeless man, asks people for money both as “himself” in everyday wear and while dressed more formally like a business man. When do you think he receives the most money?

Homeless Veteran Timelapse Transformation  - In this video a homeless veteran is given a hair and clothing makeover. Does the way someone look influence how we respond to them? As the ending shows, it may also influence the way someone feels about himself or herself. But even that isn’t always enough.

Sharing Stories

You can share personal stories from people experiencing homelessness through videos or other media. But videos have the power to influence in a way that the written word doesn’t.

One of the most-well known storytellers for homeless people is Mark Horvath from invisiblePeople which has a tag line that reads: “Some content may be offensive. Our hope is you'll get mad enough to do something.” The invisiblePeople blog is often a vlog (video blog) featuring interviews with people across North America.

The National Coalition for the Homeless in the US has produced two videos entitled Faces of Homelessness. The first one is a multimedia slide show which features “images of America’s homeless people.” The second features interviews with members of NCH’s Speakers’ Bureau.

Justice Connect in Australia created a series of videos featuring interviews with people who “have been homeless and caught up in the fines system.”


There are also many educational videos about homelessness.

The Homeless Hub has produced several videos on various topics including Housing First, Youth Homelessness, the State of Homelessness in Canada: 2013 report.

The National Center for Homeless Education: Supporting the Education of Children and Youth Experiencing Homelessness has produced a variety of videos including NCHE Online Tutorials which examine both federal (US) legislation and general awareness. They also have links on their Video page to other resources and videos that have been produced including a two-part 60 Minutes documentaries The Hard Times Generation and Families Living in Cars.

5) Start At An Early Age

I’ve done education with young people and they really seem to understand the issue. We’re working on a video series that will be released in the next few months that will emphasize how kids understand issues at such a basic level – survival and human kindness.

The Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness has a series of books “Home at Last” for K-5 students including activity books and a video. Priced reasonably they’re a good way for parents and educators to introduce the issue to students.

Raymond Kettel published a short article listing several children’s books that cover the topic of homelessness. The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts has also published a list of suggested children’s books on homelessness and poverty. It’s important for parents and teachers to read the books ahead of time to understand potentially hidden or stereotypical messages. J.L. Powers set out some recommendations for choosing Homelessness in Picture Books. Here are some other great books for kids as well:

The Runaways by Kristin Butcher explores what happens when a 12-year-old runaway befriends an elderly homeless man. Used in classrooms across North America, the website also has helpful teaching materials.

Also Known As Harper by Ann Haywood Leal examines the life of a young girl whose father has left and family has been evicted. She struggles to stay in school while her mom looks for work.

Lily and the Paper Man by Rebecca Upjohn explores the feelings of a young girl after meeting a homeless man. The Canadian Children Book’s Centre has put together questions to help kindergarten students examine the book in more detail.

We also have resources for teachers and students (both elementary and secondary) who would like to introduce the topic in more depth in their classroom.

This post is part of our Friday "Ask the Hub" blog series. Have a homeless-related question you want answered? E-mail us at and we will provide a research-based answer.