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Often, when I bring out trash, I see homeless people (maybe not all of them are homeless, I'm not sure) searching for plastic bottles and other things in trash cans. Usually I greet neighbors and other people I encounter around my house, but I'm not sure if I should talk to people who are in a situation where they would rather not be seen.

Usually I just pretend they are not there, but if feels very awkward. If I say "Hello" or "Good afternoon", normally they just look at me and don't reply, so I'm not sure whether they prefer to be noticed.

How can I greet someone I encounter while they're searching in the trash bin? Would it be more polite to not greet at all?

I live in Germany, if it matters, but I've encountered this situation in other European countries as well.

  • Hi lawful_neutral! I see OldPadawan added something about 'not sounding harsh or patronizing', I'm not sure what about your current approach (saying hello or good afternoon) is considered harsh or patronizing though, or what kind of response you're after. You say right now they look at you and don't reply, what wuold you like to change there? Also, we can't really answer whether it would make them feel better or worse. Can you edit that part out as well? – Tinkeringbell Jun 24 at 11:35
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    @Tinkeringbell I don't really care about their response, I just don't want to make them feel uncomfortable, but I'm not sure what is more uncomfortable: being ignored or being noticed in a situation like this. – lawful_neutral Jun 24 at 11:38
  • Okay. I'm on the fence about your current version of the question, it can be a really good one if people put some research into their answers, it can also be very primarily opinion based if people answer with 'I think I'd say/do this' :/ Can you do me one last favour, and add some kind of location tag or cultural background into your question? I think how much this behaviour may be stigmatized might vary across cultures, and thus how uncomfortable people may be when they're noticed. It should also help finding some more research-like sources for our answerers. – Tinkeringbell Jun 24 at 12:09
  • @Tinkeringbell thank you for the suggestions! I added the location. – lawful_neutral Jun 24 at 12:19
  • @Gaultheria If you'd like to expand that into an answer, that's a good start. We generally don't encourage answers in comments because it bypasses our quality measures by not having voting (both up and down) available on comments, as well as having other problems detailed on meta. – ElizB Jun 25 at 1:38
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I'll start with a few quotes from articles I found on the web. Many are about/from US/CommonWealth, but, having travelled a lot all over the world (Europe / Americas / Asia), despite being from Europe, I can say I've seen homeless people in almost every country I visited. They all look the same. They are "citizens of a poor world" who won at the "you don't seem to deserve a second chance" lottery. It's far beyond my understanding why we behave like this, no matter who we are, or where we live / come from. But it's a fact.

  1. Should I give something to them, or not?
  1. this is compounded by that nasty cynical part of us all that wonders whether trying to help might actually make things worse. The Ethics Of

  2. Sadly, all too many people have negative thoughts that go something like this: they are bums who should "get a job." "If they really wanted to work, they would go to job interviews." Or better yet, "I have to work for a living, I sure ain't giving them nothing." Unsheltered

  1. Is it ok to ignore the homeless?
  1. Social experiment shows hundreds ignoring 'homeless boy' in New Zealand (The Guardian) and 'Spat on and ignored' - The Guardian
  2. Due to the constant denial the homeless receive when asking for help, most admit to feeling invisible to the people around them. Poverty is an ugly reality and when confronted with it, many of us choose to look away, not wanting to accept a reality that doesn't align with our own. Why Do People Ignore The Homeless?
  3. They are not paper people. They are not statistics in a government profile, or just another homeless drug addict, or the "cause you know they're all the same." Phil Wyman

Now, it all boils down to what you think of all this. I've kept this answer as small as possible, but needed to point out the two main questions and dilemna people are facing. Its goal is just to show a couple of opinions and options. Once you read and see where the problem lies, it's easier to pick a choice. Books and articles have been written about this subject. Links are all over the web and can't be gathered here, but I'll add some more, studies if possible.

In this situation, I've always done what my father taught me in this case, in any case. "Be polite. Respect the persons you don't know. Respect start with politeness". So, I always salute them. It can be a smile, a nod, a word. And, even if most of the time they won't answer or acknowledge, at least, you treated them like you treat any human being, with respect.

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    I'm not sure that the "Should I give something to them, or not?" part is really relevant to the question. Also, since OP wants to be polite, maybe you could expend your point 2. 2. ? If you have sources on how feeling invisible impact their mental health/self-esteem, that could be very interesting. – Ælis Jun 24 at 15:51
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    @Ælis : it is relevant, because point #1 leads directly to #2, they're linked (post hoc ergo propter hoc, could I say...). Because you need the 2 points to make sure you understand why it might be important not to ignore them, and that you can give a smile, a word, a nod that won't make them transparent. – OldPadawan Jun 24 at 16:38

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