I live in a big city with a lot of homeless people. When I'm on the subway, I will often see them going around asking for money, food or "just a smile."
I know these people--like anyone--probably don't like being ignored and feeling invisible. However, I'm afraid I'll give them false hope by looking them in the eyes and smiling at them (since I actually have nothing to give them except for my smile).
How can I (non-verbally) communicate that I am not ignoring them/am sorry for them but that I don't have anything to give them?
I have to add that this usually happens when I am sitting in the subway train and the person asking for change is standing in the middle of the train.
To be extra clear, here is how it usually goes:
I'm already sitting on the train and, some stations later, a homeless person goes on the train too.
They then start some "one-minute speech" for the people around to hear. They start by apologizing for disturbing our trip, then tell us in what difficult situation they are (no job, no house, no money, no food). After that, they express their needs (money, water, food, cigarettes, etc..) and say that "just a smile" would be nice too. When the "speech" is over, they walk among the train passengers, hoping that someone will give them something.
What I'm currently doing when they talk and, later, when they walk in the train is: avoiding eye contact, not smiling. I'm afraid that a smile from me could give them false hope or be misinterpreted if I smile at the wrong time (like when they are telling us how hard life is for them). I'm also afraid that, looking at them while they walk in the train would lead them to think I have something to give them when I don't.
Notes and clarifications
- Those "interactions" (or lack of) happens multiple time a week and with different people (but I also see the same two homeless people sitting on the street on my way to work).