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Kim Thacker

Case Study: STLT Homelessness

Homelessness quickly arose as an area of interest in the Grade 4 brainstorm about what service project they wanted to lead for the school.

Students were aware of homeless people around them and that housing prices were high. The common thread that emerged was personal stories of seeing people who were homeless and wanting to help but not knowing what to do. This concern led into discussions and research of different situations of homelessness, temporary and more chronic homelessness, how organizations in our area are helping, and especially how it would feel to be homeless.


One of my favorite products from this project was a brainstorm completing the sentence: “I may not have a home or much money, but I still have…”

  • Love.
  • Feelings.
  • Courage.
  • People who love me.
  • A heart.
  • A brain.
  • Joy.
  • Dreams.

This developed into an interactive component of our presentation with students from all grades invited to add their thoughts to the poster along with their thoughts about how it would feel to be homeless. Once we had information, we discussed what we really wanted to get across to the school.

What are our big ideas?

  • “They should want to help and to donate things to help”
  • “We want them to understand homelessness more”
  • “They should know how it would feel to be homeless and think about how it would feel if it was you.”


From these ideas, we generated three different stations where students could rotate to learn about homelessness in our area:

  1. a keynote presentation about situations of homelessness, numbers, and organizations that are helping
  2. two skits about how it would feel to be homeless
  3. two experiences about what you would keep or need to leave behind if you were homeless and what it would be like to live in your vehicle which involved setting up a van as if a family were living in it.

In the service learning model, students learn by doing.


In this project, doing involved research, putting together a presentation for the rest of the school, organizing a collection, and (coming up) a field trip to Ecumenical Hunger Fund, the organization for which we collect food every Eucharist. Some of my favorite moments were how they learned through needing to put together their presentations.

I was impressed with the thoughtfulness and seriousness of the skit group who immediately came up with two ideas to teach how it would feel to be homeless:

  • What it would feel like if someone stared at you because you lived on the streets?
  • How it would feel to be homeless at school and not want your friends to know?


“I never wanted you to know because I would be embarrassed and I worried that you would tease me that I live in a car.” “It’s OK, it doesn’t mater if you’re rich or poor, you’ll always be my best friend.”

The keynote group started off finding lots of people in homeless situations on the streets and grew to understand that there are other situations such as living at friends’ or relatives’ houses, in vehicles, or in shelters.  Their presentation evolved into showing the pictures as stereotypes as well as what some people experience and teaching other situations:

  • “This is what you might think being homeless is, but it is not always. We will tell you different ways people can be homeless. Being homeless isn’t always living on the street. Some people are homeless but they live in their friends’ house. Most of the time people had a house and they ran out of money.”


They also wanted to include numbers of how many people were homeless in the Bay Area and learned through looking for this information how hard it is to know because it is hard to count people who are homeless and many don’t want it known that they are homeless, especially families.

The group that put together experiences started with a short list of ideas of things you might like from home that you would miss: toys, your bed, toothbrush and toothpaste.

As we talked more, the list grew until we had three tables worth of pictures encompassing all the comforts and joys of a permanent home including artwork and projects you made, legos and other toys you constructed, your kitchen, pets, special decorations for holidays, and much more.


Learning also happened thinking about a homeless vehicle:

  • “We should make it dirty, with, like wrappers all over,”
  • “Why? If all the space you had was your car, why would you keep it dirty? Why would you be messy if you were homeless?”

Physically setting up the space in a vehicle also led to lots of questions as students realized the practicalities of the situation, both from the group setting it up and from students going to the station:

  • “Where would you shower?”
  • “You couldn’t cook anything, so we need just food that you can eat how it is”
  • “There’s also no refrigerator so no milk with your cereal”
  • “You probably wouldn’t feel very safe while you were sleeping” “How would you change clothes?”
  • “What if you had to go to the bathroom in the night?”

Reflections from the discussion about being homeless in a vehicle:

  • “What would you do if you lived in your car?
  • What would you bring with you? How would you feel?
  • What would be hard or different?
  • This is what homeless people think about.
  • You should be very grateful that you aren’t homeless.
  • When you’re homeless it’s hard.
  • For example, where would you take a shower?
  • Who would you be in your car with?
  • How much money would you have for food and water or things you need to survive with?
  • Think about these things and be grateful.”

Kim Thacker, STLT Teacher

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