For Educators

Homeless in America – Procedures For Teachers

PrepPreparing for the lesson
StepsConducting the lesson
ExtensionAdditional Activities


Media Components

Computer Resources:

  • Modem: 56.6 Kbps or faster.
  • Browser: Netscape Navigator 4.0 or above or Internet Explorer 4.0 or above. Macintosh computer: System 8.1 or above and at least 32 MB of RAM.
  • Personal computer (Pentium II 350 MHz or Celeron 600 MHz) running Windows® 95 or higher and at least 32 MB of RAM

Bookmarked sites:

TIP: Preview all sites and videos before presenting them to the class.

    Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly: Cover Story — Homeless in America, Part 1
    An overview of the plight of the homeless, emphasizing the criminalization of homelessness and the impact of homelessness on families.Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly: Cover Story — Homeless in America, Part 2
    Sequel to Part 1, emphasizing the response of religious institutions to homelessness.

    An Interview with Philip Mangano
    The Executive Director of the Interagency Council on the Homeless talks about the right to be homeless, the abolition of homelessness, and the role of religious institutions in preventing and intervening in homelessness.

    National Coalition for the Homeless
    This group’s mission, “to end homelessness,” is supported by its site, which focuses on public education, advocacy, and grassroots organizing. Many excellent educational resources are featured here.

    National Alliance to End Homelessness: Fact Sheets for Students
    Four separate fact sheets written for K-2, 3-5, middle school, and high school, downloadable in PDF format. Organizational mission is “to mobilize the nonprofit, public and private sectors of society in an alliance to end homelessness.”

    National Center for Homeless Education
    This organization seeks to “alleviate, ameliorate, and end homelessness by serving as the legal arm of the nationwide movement to end homelessness.” Includes background and informational materials written at a level suitable for older elementary students.


Teachers will need the following supplies:

  • Board and/or chart paper
  • Ideally a screen on which to project the Web-based video clips
  • Handouts of Web resources if computers are not available in the classroom

Students will need the following supplies:

  • Notebook or journal
  • Pens/pencils
  • Dictionaries


Introductory Activity: Web about Home

1. To begin, make a brainstorming web to help students organize their thoughts about what it means to have a home-something most of them take for granted. On the chalkboard or chalk paper, write the word “home.” Ask children to think about words and ideas they associate with home-what home means to them-and to call out their ideas one at a time as you write them around the word home in web form.

  • Be sure to elicit some language about what home provides for us (e.g., security, protection, privacy) as well as the feelings associated with home (e.g. warmth, safety, love, closeness, a place of your own).

You also could list, either separately or as a section of the web, things that people do in their homes: e.g., prepare and eat meals, sleep, play, read, watch TV, do homework, bathe and shower, keep their things (clothes, toys, etc.). Try to get students to focus on the positives. Also, get them to think about positive actions that are really needed for a family to function well in a home (e.g., helping with the cleaning, respecting others’ space), and positive actions that are perhaps not needed, but would increase the quality of life for the people living in the home (e.g., keeping the TV volume low when others are doing something different, turning off lights when they are not needed).

2. Explain that the class will think and talk about what it means to have a home and also will look at the problem of homelessness, which affects many people in our society, and decide on some things they will do together to help people who don’t have homes.

At this point, you might ask younger students to draw a picture of a home and write about it. They can share and discuss finished drawings with a partner. You might follow up with a book like “The Very Best Home for Me” by Garth Williams (Golden Books 2001).

NOTE: It is important to keep in mind that in many schools there are children who, for a variety of reasons, are homeless and living in shelters or temporary homes. These children often feel embarrassed by their circumstances and try to hide their situations. It is vital that you know who these children are, honor the wishes of those who prefer nondisclosure, and ensure that the classroom atmosphere around discussions of homelessness is respectful and free from put-downs. Also, if you notice a student becoming upset by this topic, you might take an opportunity to speak privately with that student and, if you think it necessary, make a referral.

Learning Activities

Activity One: Looking at the Problem (for Grades 3-5)

1. Tell students that they are going to see a news program about homelessness. Ask them to brainstorm some ideas about what they’ll see in the video clip. Chart their ideas and save for later. Tell students that as they watch, they should be noticing questions that come into their minds. Ask that each student write down on a large index card or piece of paper one question they have as they are watching.

Show the video from the segment:
Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly: Cover Story — Homeless in America, Part 1

To access the video clip, click on the link in the box on the transcript. (Alternatively, for proficient readers, print copies of the transcript.)

2. After the video, note differences and similarities between the actual content and the brainstormed list. Then ask students to tape their questions to the chalkboard or a bulletin board. Next, lead a discussion in which the class decides how to categorize them, grouping questions that are similar or related and writing appropriate headings for each group. (There will be a number of “correct” ways to do this.) Explain that these questions will be kept up for the duration of the unit, and others can be added.

3. Next, have the class form groups of four and ask each group to discuss one of the following quotes from the video program, keeping in mind all the information in the video. Before they begin discussion, read both quotations with the class and talk about what they mean. You may want to define or review the following vocabulary: “quality of life,” statutes, panhandling, justifiable, advocate, criminalize.

    Discussion Option 1
    “Under former mayor R.G., NY’s “quality of life” statutes against panhandling, sleeping on park benches, etc. were strictly enforced, and many New Yorkers were grateful…” Why would New Yorkers be grateful? Do you agree that when homeless people are visible, panhandling, and sleeping on park benches, it diminishes the quality of life for others? Is it justifiable to arrest people for doing these things?

    Discussion Option 2
    “Homeless advocates say the solution is not criminalizing the homeless, but providing more affordable housing and social services. What’s most important, they say, is that the homeless are not kept out of sight.” Why would it be important not to keep the homeless out of sight? Do you think providing more affordable housing and better services will solve the problem of homelessness?

For discussion, instruct groups that each student will speak in turn for about a minute, without interruption, while the others just listen. When everyone has had a turn to speak in this way, groups can engage in free-flowing discussion for about 5 minutes. Finally, someone from each group can report out on the general tone of their discussion and the points that were raised, without divulging any one person’s opinions.

Activity One: Looking at the Problem (for Grades K-2)

1.) To help students focus on what it means to be homeless, read one of the books suggested on the K-2 pamphlet available online at the National Alliance to End Homelessness:

2.) Follow up with a discussion of what’s hard about not having a home of your own.

Activity Two: Learning More

1. Ask students to learn more about homelessness in general. Good information, including handouts and bibliographies designed for elementary students, can be found at the site of the National Alliance to End Homelessness,

Use the “Fact Sheets for Students” found here:
Follow the link for the appropriate grade level (“Kindergarten-Grade 2” or “Grades 3-5”).

Proficient readers could also explore the site of the National Center for Homeless Education,

2. The goal should be for each student to:

  • Cite at least three important facts about homelessness in their nation/community.
  • Cite at least three possible reasons why people become homeless.
  • Name at least five ways in which homelessness adversely affects people.

Students will demonstrate what they know by completing the Student Organizer: What I Have Learned about Homelessness. This can be done as class work or homework.

When students have completed this sheet, they can compile and discuss their answers in small groups, then bring their lists together to form a whole-class list of “What we know about homelessness.”

Older students could use this activity as the basis for a five-paragraph essay. (Intro, facts, reasons, adverse effects, conclusion).

Activity Three: Interviewing Guest Speakers

1. Invite someone to speak to the group about homelessness in your town or community and what is being done to help the homeless. You could invite one or several guests; for instance, clergy, social service workers, police officers, legislators, members of advocacy groups. Be sure that the information shared by speakers includes names of faith-based and other organizations with established programs for helping the homeless.

2. Use the Student Handout: Tips for Interviewing and Student Organizer: Interview Planning Sheet to help students focus on what they want to learn from the speakers and what questions they will ask. (Go over the handout and organizer with students; note that you may need to adapt the content for younger students.)

For instance, they might ask a social service worker:

  • How much homelessness do you see among your clients?
  • If someone is about to lose his or her home, how do you help?
  • If kids become homeless, can they stay in their school?

NOTE: You may also wish to review guidelines for age-appropriateness with prospective guests. Stories that are gruesome, frightening, or very sad can upset young children, and people whose work inures them to misery sometimes forget how disturbing such stories can be. Also, of course, presenters must avoid any stories involving students and their families.

Culminating Activity/Assessment: How Can We Help?

1. Brainstorm: What are some ways you know about that people help the homeless? Ask students to call out ideas; chart them.

2. Tell students that they are going to watch a video and that they should watch for ways that people help. Instruct them to take notes if they wish. Show the video clip found at: Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly: Cover Story — Homeless in America, Part 2:

Then, list the ways to help that students identified while viewing the video. Add to their original brainstorming list.

3. Identify several items on the list that most students would like to pursue; for instance, a clothing drive, a teddy bear collection, care packs containing basic toiletries, collecting canned goods for a food pantry, making brownies for a soup kitchen. Discuss whom you will need to contact for help and experience.

4. Choose one or two items from the list, using a consensus model. Discuss how to plan, publicize, and carry out the activity. Older students can assume a large degree of responsibility for this, while younger ones will need more structure.

5. Carry out the project.


  • The unit on homelessness can be linked to studies of ecosystems and habitats. What kinds of homes do animals have? What happens when an animal’s habitat is disrupted or destroyed?
  • Students can write letters to local, state, and federal officials expressing their concerns about homelessness and requesting information about programs and policies designed to help the homeless/prevent homelessness.