Back to one of the questions I am most often asked:
"What is the one thing we can do to aid someone we see in need on the streets?"
This response is not only for aiding the homeless; it's for aiding anyone who is having a challenging moment.
There is no "one thing". However, one of the things you can consider is:
Carry Tokens on you, for the public transit system in your area.
If someone you know is homeless, give them 4 tokens to use. Almost anywhere in Los Angeles, you need to take (at the very least) 2 buses to get one way to a destination, and then the same 2 buses to return to where you were.
That doesn't take into account that each city usually has an intercity metro system as well as internal transit systems (such as DASH, LADOT in Los Angeles) that do not accept the tokens from other transit systems.
Travel for me on a daily basis usually requires a minimum of 3 buses or trains and can include up to 6 buses or trains to get to one destination. I utilize a disabled monthly EZ bus pass. Any EZ pass (regular or senior/disabled) in the LA area will let you on buses in each city -- a lifesaver in many ways.
What is a token? It's a one-trip, one-bus fare.
For example in the Los Angeles Metro System (mta.net) -- Tokens are good for base fare and also are sold at various locations, in bags of ten.
I ride the buses. My other option is my trike, which is too much of a physical exertion for me at this moment in time (as well as a safety liability particularly after dusk, since vandalism and attempted theft are rife, even though I use 5 locks).
The other day, on my way to pick up an item that was being donated to me, I could have kicked myself for not having my spare 5 tokens. A homeless woman I recognize from Winter Shelter got on the bus and didn't have bus fare.
Mimi is a wonderous woman, with her helmet, plastic bag belt, and differing shoes on each foot. She is one of the chronically homeless and she didn't recognize me. Understandable, as we haven't seen each other since I "moved" out of Winter Shelter 6 months ago (February 2, 2011).
I was digging through my pack looking for enough cash (which I ultimately didn't have) to pay her fare, as the bus driver badgered her, then finally let her on the bus, telling her to go to the back of the bus.
In every city, I see people getting on the bus, without fare. You cannot tell for certain if they are housed or homeless. Some you can tell have just been released from a local hospital, a local jail -- by the bands on their wrists and/or they are telling the driver they've just been released, "can I have a ride to _________".
Bus drivers in the LA Metro system are allowed to give boarding rights to such requests, at their discretion. Some drivers treat people asking for this with dignity, some drivers treat people with rudeness and disparaging remarks.
When you come across someone in this situation, you are always free to choose to take action or not.
If you have bus tokens on you, slipping one into the meter for the person is a way of taking well-being action.
With a smile on your face, an air of feeling relaxed, and exuding the non-verbal communication that it is the most normal thing in the world to contribute a small moment of awareness to another person while extending an action of well-being -- you make a significant impact on the world.
Along with that,
...what if an impressionable youth (or adult) on the bus sees you doing this and ponders to them-self the ramifications of taking such an action on their own?
...what if the person whose fare you just paid glimpses for a moment they are a valuable human being, could it be a turning point for them?
...what if no one noticed at all, and you did it anyway?
Small acts and choices are important in our world. Nothing large comes about without the foundation of seemingly small choices and actions.
Consider carrying bus tokens with you, if you have the cash to purchase them. They cost less at time of purchase than paying cash on the bus.
If you have the $5 or $6 for a day-pass on you, and feel you can spare the change -- consider giving the person a gift of a day pass. That let's them ride as many buses as they need for that day for that particular transit provider.
Use your discretion, your ability to analyze a situation, and take action as it befits your awareness of the circumstance you are in.