High School Students Get A Glimpse of Homelessness

         This year NEOCH VISTAs participated in the national day of service, Make a Difference Day, on Friday, October 25. The activities of the day centered around the concept “Get a glimpse”. This was accomplished by trying to show local high school students what life is like for a day as a homeless person.

        The three schools involved were Shaker Heights High School, St. Joseph’s Academy, and St. Edward’s High School. The students knowledge about homelessness was assessed prior to Make a Difference Day with a questionnaire. There were several stereotypes evident among the answers, along with a few very knowledgeable responses.

        The students met at St. Coleman’s church at 8:30am, and began their day. The students were broken into two groups. One group moved through the ‘housing maze’ first, and the other group left to tour the Bishop Cosgrove drop-in center, and 2100 Lakeside men’s emergency shelter.

        Each student about to enter the maze was given an identity card. These included representatives from all different groups of people who are homeless. An example is a student being given the identity of a single mother with two children and no resources. The purpose of giving the students specific identities was to guide them in the types of services they would have to visit. The idea of the maze was to show the students the different agencies, and red tape, homeless people have to go through in order to try to get their needs met, with the ultimate goal being to attain permanent housing. These services included a representation of discount medical treatment, drop-in shelters, transitional housing, job training, legal services, and government assistance programs. The students were required to follow the same procedures that actual patrons would have to follow at these various agencies, such as being rerouted, filling out countless applications, and being told they are at the wrong place.

        A drop in center style lunch (of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, courtesy of donations from St. Coleman’s church) was served to the students as the groups switched. Then, the same process of maze and shelter visits was carried out with the different groups.

        After the two groups had both gone through the activities, they were broken into smaller groups in order to discuss their experiences. After the small group discussions, the whole group was reunited in order to listen to the main speakers, homeless and formerly homeless people. The group was then challenged to come up with ways they could continue to make a difference in their schools. Their ideas centered on fundraising events and donation drives.        

        The day did make a difference for most of the high school students. Several of the students mentioned that their idea of what a homeless person is has changed. A few of them mentioned that they now know that homeless people aren’t lazy, unmotivated people. They realized the true hardships faced by the homeless community on a regular basis.

  Copyright NEOCH Homeless Grapevine in December 2002 in Cleveland Ohio.