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Real-World Ways to Help Someone Experiencing Homelessness

On any given night, Father Joe’s Villages provides shelter for more than 2,000 people, while thousands more sleep in doorways, under bridges and in the canyons and riverbeds throughout San Diego.

The Regional Task Force on the Homeless estimates the number of people experiencing homelessness in San Diego for the first time last year nearly doubled — from 2,300 in 2019 to 4,100 in 2020.

Unfortunately, the number of individuals and families falling into homelessness could grow again this year due to the devasting economic impacts of COVID-19 on employment and housing insecurity.

With a potential increase in homelessness this year, it’s important to remember that people living on the streets are not strangers. They are mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons, daughters, friends— they are our neighbors.

It takes the support of every San Diegan to contribute to helping our neighbors off the street. You can make a difference in the lives of people who need it most by becoming educated on the resources available for neighbors in need in the community. Knowing how to ACT when you see a person who is struggling on the streets can result in positive outcomes for someone in need, and can even save lives.

How do I interact with a person experiencing homelessness on the street?

Act with Compassion

Humanizing our homeless neighbors experiencing homelessness who are often ignored and stigmatized by society is always the first step toward helping them. People experiencing homelessness on the streets of our city need understanding, not contempt and ostracization. Many people living on the streets talk about feeling invisible and therefore worthless.

Treating struggling neighbors with compassion means looking them in the eyes, smiling, and offering kindness at a time when they may need it most.

When you see a person who is trying to survive on the streets, remember to not define them solely by their homelessness. By recognizing the humanity of people who are homeless, we can begin to address the underlying forces that contribute to and exacerbate homelessness such as:

  • Insufficient income and a lack of affordable housing in San Diego
  • Disability and/or chronic illness
  • Domestic violence
  • Systemic discrimination based on race, ethnicity, and gender, and sexual orientation
  • Mental illness
  • Substance Use Disorder

No matter what circumstances may have caused their homelessness, our neighbors living on the streets are deserving of dignity and respect.

How can I help people experiencing homelessness on the streets?

1. Refer them to Father Joe’s Villages

Father Joe’s Villages provides many compassionate services that help people in need overcome any obstacle on their journey to housing. In just the last 10 years, Father Joe’s Villages has served more than 60,000 people struggling with homelessness through our tailored programs. These programs work to restore dignity and help people in need off the streets for good.

● Franklin Antonio Public Lunch Program

At Father Joe’s Villages, a meal is not only a means of survival. It is a door to hope and overcoming homelessness. On average each year, Father Joe’s Villages serves 1 million hot, nutritious meals to our neighbors in need. The Franklin Antonio Public Lunch program is open to the public and is directed towards our neighbors experiencing homelessness.


1501 Imperial Avenue
San Diego, CA 92101

Monday — Saturday
11:00 am – 12:30 pm
9:30 am – 11:30 am

(619) 233-8500

● San Diego Day Center (Single adults)

The San Diego Day Center serves as a safe space where people living on the streets can go during the day. The San Diego Day Center provides hygiene services and basic needs such as restrooms, showers, laundry, storage, a mailing address and also serves as an intake center where people in need can be connected to services.


299 17th St.
San Diego, CA 92101

Monday – Friday
6:00 am – 4:00 pm
Saturday – Sunday
6:00 am – 2:00 pm

(619) 230-7390

● Village Health Center

People who are homeless suffer from disproportionately high rates of chronic illness, poor health status and premature mortality rates. Our Village Health Center is a Federally Qualified Health Center which combines medical, dental, psychiatric, substance-use disorder treatment and behavioral health care to address a wide range of health concerns—all in one location.


1501 Imperial Avenue
San Diego, CA 92101

Monday-Wednesday, Friday
8:30am – 11:45 am
12:30pm – 4:45 pm
8:30 am – 11:45 am
1:00 pm – 4:45 pm
5:30 pm – 8:45 pm

(619) 645-6405

● Joan Kroc Center (Families or Single Adults)

The Joan Kroc Center shelter at Father Joe’s Villages grants people a reprieve from the streets, a safe place to sleep, and immediate access to services that can help them end their homelessness for good. In total, on any given night, the Joan Kroc Center houses approximately 52 families (246 adults and children) and up to 54 single individuals. In addition to the San Diego Day Center, the Joan Kroc Center serves as an intake center where homeless neighbors can be connected to essential services.


1501 Imperial Avenue
San Diego, CA 92101

Monday – Friday
8:00 am – 4:30 pm

(619) 233-8500

2. Call 2-1-1

If you are in need of services in San Diego, 2‑1‑1 is a free telephone number providing access to local health, human, and social service organizations. By calling 2‑1‑1, those in need of assistance can be referred and connected to physical and mental health resources, housing and employment assistance, and crisis interventions.

How should I respond when a person experiencing homelessness on the streets asks me for money?

Giving money to someone living on the streets is a personal choice. If you decide that you don’t feel comfortable giving money to a neighbor who is homeless, it’s important to still acknowledge them and treat them respectfully. A good response can be, “I’m sorry, I don’t have any money to give.”

If you’d like to support critical services for people experiencing homelessness, you can instead donate to a homeless services organization in your community.

What should I do if a homeless person is experiencing a psychiatric emergency or acting violently in my business or neighborhood?

Avoid criminalization, if possible, as it can lead to further complications.

According to the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, 70% of individuals experiencing chronic homelessness also suffer from disabling mental illness. With limited access to healthcare and mental health services, many people living on the streets suffering from mental illness don’t receive the level of support they need.

Our first instinct when experiencing someone with visible mental health issues may be to call law enforcement. However, in these situations, calling the police could do more harm than good. Mental health professionals trained in de-escalation are often better suited to handle situations in which a homeless individual may be experiencing a mental health crisis.

Sadly, criminalization could lead to ticket or jail fines that can make it more difficult for a neighbor to overcome homelessness in the future.

In this scenario, please call 2-1-1 so they can connect you to resources. Alternatively, you can Contact Us [link] at Father Joe’s Villages and we can connect you to our Outreach team.

On the other hand, if you witness a person living on the streets having a psychiatric emergency, please contact these resources

  • Psychiatric emergency response team (PERT)
  • City of San Diego Homeless Outreach Team (HOT)
  • Neighborhood Policing Division (NPD)

I don’t live in San Diego. How do I help a person experiencing homelessness in my neighborhood?

If you do not live in the San Diego area, please check online in your local area to see if you have a resource hotline, local homeless services agency, or psychiatric emergency response team.