Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Hitting Home About Homelessness

As part of our literature study the last few weeks, we have split our upper elementary students into two groups, reading two books on the same theme.

The books: Both dynamic: Family Under the Bridge by Natalie Savage Carlson and Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli.

The theme:  Homelessness

Secondary themes:  Identity, naivety, prejudice/discrimination, needs versus wants, empathy.  All very poignant here in the holiday season of wishlist making and hoping for gifts under the tree.

The class conversations: Amazing.

The changes in attitudes and awareness:  Remarkable.

To help build empathy and really change misconceptions about what it means to be homeless, we've been studying infographics, and checking out some of the videos below.  Through all of this, they've had some eye-opening reality checks that being homeless isn't what they initially thought.

One of the most powerful videos to open the eyes of our 11 year olds has been to visit with "Homeless Dean."  I know Homeless Dean--for real. I've written about him before.  A couple times in fact. (See part 2 & part 3.)  Dean Wright was the boyfriend (and now husband) of one of my college roommates. In 2012, Dean voluntarily went homeless for 10 days [from Nov. 26th--Dec. 6th] in chilly Illinois temperatures.  As the Executive Director for the Freeport Area Church Cooperative (FACC), he did it to help raise awareness of homelessness in his community. Along those lines, while keeping his day job, he restricted himself to a $6.50 amount for food.  He videocast his experience and set up a YouTube channel with multiple videos he created to document his experience.

While watching these videos, my students started to change their perceptions. To a degree, I think it was hard for some of them to wrap their heads around the idea of someone literally putting themselves in a homeless person's shoes to experience it for themselves.  Dean gave my kids someone to associate with. Given that, prepubescent humor sort of frittered away on this subject.

Many of the videos are eye-opening.  Day 1 of course details Dean's vision and plan. Day 2 is here below, in which Dean talks about his first night in 20 degree weather. The kids noticed in watching several along the way (here at that same time of year) how even just a few days of sleeplessness and exposure to the night time elements affected Dean.  Two of my favorites are his "Let's Do Something" (where he spoke about having passion and taking action) and "The End or The Beginning."

As we all are approaching the upcoming holidays, may you think about your community.  The needs of the people around you.  Every community everywhere has its share of people who need your help.  Take time to be grateful for what you have, and see how you can help others (whether they are homeless or afflicted with something else that is important to you).  By helping others, and by taking action, you will indeed find the true meaning of the season.

Here are some final inspirational videos to help raise your awareness on issues that homeless people face.

Homeless image from; two infographics the source is listed with them as modified for 11 year olds using the PicCollage app.
"Homeless Dean" Videos from: 
Showers on Wheels Video from
Dumpster Diving video from

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