9, 10, 11, 12

Students examine their preconceptions about homelessness and build understanding of homelessness.

PrintOne 50-Minute Class Period

The learner will:

  • write about an encounter or experience with an individual who was homeless.
  • assess the assumptions made about homelessness.
  • read and respond to short bios of homeless individuals, families, and children.
  • list most-prized possessions and imagine what it would be like to lose them.
  • brainstorm questions to investigate about homelessness.
Teacher Preparation 

Note: Be sensitive to the fact that some of your students may have personal experience with homelessness.

Instructor must contact a local organization that supports people who are homeless to make arrangements prior to visit during Lesson 3: What Can We Do?

In New York City, the homeless services office:

Office of Communications and External Affairs

33 Beaver Street, 17th Floor

New York, NY 10004

Press Office


[email protected]


homelessness: the condition of having no permanent housing

temporary: for a short term

chronic: a condition lasting for an extended period of time, or occurring again and again

preconception (or prejudice): an opinion formed beforehand, often of an unfavorable nature, about an individual or group of people; “pre-judging”

possession: an item owned by or belonging to an individual

empathy: ability to share feelings experienced by another


Ask students to look at that list of preconceptions they brainstormed earlier and show them how to turn a preconception into a question. Give an example: “He seemed drunk.” Turn it into a question: “Are most homeless people alcoholics or drug addicts?”

Ask each student to think of one question that could help us to better understand homelessness and move away from any prejudices we may have come with. Invite students to write down their question on a note card. Tell them that you will display these questions on a chart and they will guide our work next time.


  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Tell students that over the next four sessions, we will be focusing on some of the personal stories of people who are homelessness and what we can do about the issue of homelessness.

    Ask students what they think it means to be homeless. Share with them the definitions on chart paper (may be prepared in advance or filled out in the discussion--save the chart).

    Briefly discuss the different forms that homelessness can take: temporary or chronic; livingon the street, in shelters, in “found” spaces; and families and individuals.

  2. Ask students to think about a time when they came into contactwith someone who was homeless. It could be someone they knew, someone they had an exchange with, or someone they simply observed. Model briefly with your own story, such as a time you felt uncomfortable on the subway when a homeless individual came through asking for money. Give students 5-10 minutes to write or draw about their experiences, trying to recall as many details as possible. Note: be sensitive to the fact that some students may have personal experience with homelessness.

  3. Engage the group in discussion about their experiences, encouraging them to share but being clear that nobody is required to share any personal details aloud. Ask: How did you feel? What did you think about the person? Encourage them to be honest about their initial reactions, stating that most everybody has preconceptions, or a prejudice, (share these definitions) about what it means to be homeless. This discussion is intended to examine preconceptions and look at what is prejudice and what is fact.

  4. Write on a chart some of the questions that come up. Save these questions for the next lesson.

  5. Tell students that one way to get past prejudices is to “step into the shoes” of someone who is homeless.

  6. Tell students that they are going to step into the shoes of some homeless people by reading some stories. First, tell them you want them to imagine a situation:

    • Give students 3-4 minutes to create a list of their 10 most prized possessions. Now, ask them to imagine that a fire at their home is forcing them to leave their bedrooms immediately. They may choose only one item to take with them. Have students turn and talk with a partner about which of their prized possessions they would choose to bring. Have them discuss how it would feel, how difficult to choose, and what it would be like to lose most of their favorite possessions.
  7. Reconvene as a whole group. Invite a few students to share a comment from their conversations. State that a house fire is one of many ways that people can become homeless. A fire is something that can happen to anyone, and it suddenly makes a family homeless. Read aloud one or two of the stories at There are 20 stories in total. Ask students to read the stories in pairs or small groups. Come together at the end to share what stood out about the stories.

  8. Distribute Handout 1: Homelessness, which illustrates that one way many teens become homeless is because they run away. Read and discuss the Handout in small groups or as a whole class.


Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 01. Self, citizenship, and society
      1. Benchmark HS.3 Give examples of human interdependence and explain why group formation is one strategy for survival.
    2. Standard PCS 07. Skills of Civic Engagement
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Utilize the persuasive power of written or oral communication as an instrument of change in the community, nation or the world.
      2. Benchmark HS.2 Discuss a public policy issue affecting the common good and demonstrate respect and courtesy for differing opinions.
  2. Strand PHIL.IV Volunteering and Service
    1. Standard VS 01. Needs Assessment
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Identify a need in the school, local community, state, nation, or world.