<< My life on the streets

By Libby Hartigan, Managing Editor
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Grades: 6-12
Subject: Language arts, social studies, life skills

Overview of lesson plan: Students will re-evaluate their own and others’ views of homelessness.

Suggested time allowance: 45 min.—1 hr.

Objective: Students will discuss their views on the homeless, examine where their ideas come from, and compare their views with what others have said.

Resources and materials:
–pens and paper
–copies of L.A. Youth May-June 2005 issue (one per student)
–blackboard or whiteboard

Warm-up:
Write "Homeless" on the board. Ask your students to call out what comes to mind when they think of a homeless person. Jot some of these on the board. You may end up with some of these impressions: "Smelly, dangerous, scary, loser, dirty, crazy, lazy."
Some of the words used to describe the homeless include "bum, derelict, undesirable, hobo."
One student from East L.A. recently commented to L.A. Youth about the homeless: "I have to say that they are lazy and dumb because everyone in the U.S. gets a chance to make something of themselves."
Other students have compared the homeless, who beg for change, to people who sell oranges or flowers on the street. This leads them to conclude that homeless people are lazy and don’t want to work to earn a living.

Reading: Have the students read the article about William’s experiences on the streets on pages 20-21 of the May-June 2005 issue of L.A. Youth.

Reading comprehension: After reading the article, what words would students use to describe William and his choices? Referring back to the list of words on the board, would students say that he was "Smelly, dangerous, scary, loser, dirty, crazy, lazy." Or do they find him to be brave, desperate, a thief, a drug user, resourceful, trapped, depressed, struggling, unlucky? Did the article change students’ perceptions about what the homeless are like?

Discussion:
Some experts say that most American families are just a few paychecks away from being homeless. In a classroom discussion, examine why William became homeless. There’s no easy answer to that question; he had an unstable childhood, he was removed from his first foster home, and then bounced from one group home to another. Each time he ran, there were different reasons. Sometimes he was kicked out for using drugs, at other times he had conflicts with authority, and once he felt threatened by a rival crew. Another time he didn’t want to keep leaning on his friend, eating his food and wearing his clothes.
Why did William keep running away? What do students think of the choices he made? Was he homeless because he was dumb and lazy?

Writing exercise:
Ask students to write an essay describing how to help William. If they could wave a magic wand and change his life for the better, what would they change? Would they make his father less abusive? Help William cope better with rules and restrictions? Take away William’s drug use? Make more shelters so that it was easier for William to find a place to stay? Introduce him to better friends?

Evaluation:
Grades will be based on classroom participation and essay-writing.

Extension exercise:
Ask students to research why teens become homeless and write a report on it. One source could be a 2005 Australian study on homeless youth. Information on the study can be found at http://uninews.unimelb.edu.au/articleid_2190.html