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How to support a friend in homelessness

Knowing a friend is homeless can be hard but there are ways you can support them


Written by SpunOut | View this authors Twitter page and posted in life


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Homelessness is a big issue in Ireland, and it can happen for a number of different reasons. It can mean sleeping on the streets, staying in emergency accommodation like hostels or B&Bs or in family hubs, or it could mean they are couchsurfing, going from house to house. If you have a friend or family member who is homeless, there are things you can do to help them - even if it’s just simply being there for them.

This is a really difficult situation for your friend to go through, and it can be stressful knowing they’re having such a hard time. While you’re being there for them, make sure to look after yourself and talk to someone about how you’re feeling too.

My friend is homeless - how can I help?

The kind of help that you can offer will depend on the circumstances. Although you might want to do a lot for your friend, remember that you are not responsible for fixing their situation. They just need someone to be there for them.

Treat them with respect

Letting someone know you’re homeless can take some courage, especially if you don’t want others to know. If a friend tells you that they’re staying in emergency accommodation like a family hub or B&B, or that they’re living on the streets or couchsurfing, recognise that this is a hard thing to do. Avoid making jokes or comments that could be hurtful. Thank them for sharing that with you, and let them know you’re there to listen if they ever need to talk.

Direct them to a service

If your friend has not already engaged with a homeless service, encourage them to reach out to one. Help them find a service in the local area, and offer to be there when they contact them or go in to visit them, if that’s something you can do. If they have not registered as homeless with the local authorities, you could support them in doing that too. Find out more about homeless services for young people.

If your friend is under 18 and has left home, this means their parent or guardian is legally responsible for them. If they cannot go home because they feel it isn’t safe, then Tusla (the Child and Family Agency) has a responsibility to intervene. If this is the case, reach out to an adult you trust, like a parent, guardian, or a teacher and let them know the situation.

Be there for them

This is a really stressful time for your friend, and having someone there who knows what’s going on and can listen can help a lot. If they are staying with their family in a hub or B&B, they might be feeling crowded and overwhelmed. Try offering to spend time with them by either inviting them over for tea or going to a café or for a walk somewhere to help them get a break. If you’re not able to meet up, suggest a phone or video call to check in and give them a chance to talk.

Ask what they need

Your friend might not be able to afford certain essentials at the moment. If you’re in a position to do so, you could offer to pick a few things up for them every now and then. This could include period products, soap or shaving products, snacks or other things that they might need. Only buy what you can afford, and let them know if it’s something you can do just once, or every few weeks or months - whatever is within your budget. Be clear about what you’re willing to purchase too, and that you might not be able to get everything they need but you’ll try to get the most important items.

Offer a study space

If your friend is in school or college and they’re finding it hard to get their homework or study done in emergency accommodation or while couch surfing, you could offer a desk or quiet spot in your home for a few hours to allow them to get their work done. If you also have school or college work to do, you can create a study session where you can support each other and encourage one another to get the work done. Just make sure that this arrangement works for the other people you live with, and make sure to follow any COVID-19 restrictions that might be in place, including whether or not visitors are allowed in the home.

If they have nowhere to stay

Knowing your friend has nowhere to stay can put you in a difficult situation. You may want to help but just don’t have the space, or you might only be able to offer them a place to stay for a limited time. If you are offering your couch or a spare room, be really clear from the beginning around how long they can stay there, and what the boundaries are (what they can and can’t do while staying with you). When the time is approaching for them to leave, make sure they have other arrangements in place so that they know where to go once they leave your house.

Although this might be difficult, setting boundaries is important because otherwise it can lead to tension. It’s also important that others who live with you are comfortable with them staying, and that their needs are taken into consideration too.

Again, if they are under 18 and they won’t or can’t go home, then Tusla (the Child and Family Agency) are responsible for their welfare and will need to be contacted.

If your friend has problems with drugs or alcohol

It can be upsetting to know that a friend is experiencing problems with drinking or taking drugs. It can also be hard to know how to help. If this is the case, encourage your friend to engage with a drugs and alcohol service in your area.

Find more information on getting help for drugs or alcohol below:

Looking after yourself

Supporting a friend who is homeless can be stressful. You might be feeling upset about their situation, or guilty that you can’t do more to help. You could also be feeling a lot of pressure to do more than you’re able to do. It’s important that you take time for yourself in all of this and check in with how you’re feeling.

Remember that although you can be there for them, it is not your responsibility to fix their situation. You need to prioritise your own wellbeing so that you can support them. If you have responsibilities like school, college or work, it’s okay to focus on those. Just let your friend know that you will do what you can with the time that you have. Taking time for yourself is important.

Talk to someone

If you are finding this situation difficult and you need someone to talk to, reach out to someone you trust. You might benefit from going for counselling, which would give you the space to share how you’re feeling without judgement. A counsellor can support you in finding ways to cope with the situation so that you can be there for your friend.

Need more information?

We are here to answer your questions and talk through your options. Our online chat service is for 16 to 25 year olds and is available Monday to Friday, 4pm to 8pm. Chat to us now about your situation.

Feeling overwhelmed or want to talk to someone right now?

If you are a customer of the 48 network or cannot get through using the ‘50808’ short code please text HELLO to 086 1800 280 (standard message rates may apply). Some smaller networks do not support short codes like ‘50808’.

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Published March 26th2021
Can this be improved? Contact editor@spunout.ie if you have any suggestions for this article.

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