Lessons in poverty help expand minds

Homelessness guide created for students.

The author of a new online teaching resource about homelessness says she hopes the guide finds its way into high-school classrooms throughout B.C.

“My main hope is that teachers use it and that students learn something from it, and perhaps it will shift some attitudes to understanding that we all have a role as citizens to contribute to making our society a better place for everyone,” said Jennifer Hales, a Vancouver-based educational consultant and former teacher.

Released in early October, Learning About Homelessness in British Columbia was created by Hales and SFU economics professor Krishna Pendakur.

The free 166-page teaching guide is intended primarily for students studying social sciences or humanities in grades 11 and 12. It includes background information on homelessness, a series of suggested activities for students, and a list of additional resources on the subject.

“I think it’s important to give students an opportunity to gain more in-depth understanding of an issue that’s so prevalent in our society, and to explore the problem, and also to explore and clarify their own views about homelessness,” Hales told the Straight in a phone interview.

The first activity in the guide prompts students to reflect on what the concept of “home” means to them on a personal level. They are asked to sketch what comes to mind and discuss how the loss of a home would affect their daily lives.

Another activity directs students to respond to a series of true-or-false questions about facts related to homelessness. They are asked about the number of homeless people in Metro Vancouver, the age and gender of homeless people, and whether homelessness exists only in big cities.

There’s also an activity that explores the question of what can be done to end homelessness. In this lesson, students form groups and develop policy recommendations for all three levels of government to help solve the problem.

Hales, who has created guides for the B.C. Teachers’ Federation, World Vision Canada, and SOPAR, said the key issue of aboriginal homelessness was integrated into the lesson plans wherever possible.

“Aboriginal people are so overrepresented in homelessness and poverty in Vancouver, B.C., and Canada,” she said. “Two percent of the Metro Vancouver region’s population is aboriginal, but 32 percent of the homeless population is aboriginal.”

As well, one of the 13 classroom activities outlined in the guide focuses on Danse Crowkiller, a homeless aboriginal man who lives in Vancouver’s Commercial Drive area. Hales said the lesson involves students discussing and responding to a 30-minute film that Crowkiller helped to create about his life.

On October 22, Hales delivered workshops on the guide at the fall conference of the B.C. Social Studies Teachers Association.

According to the guide, the lessons it contains meet B.C. Ministry of Education learning outcomes from the Integrated Resource Packages–mandated curriculum.

“In a nutshell, I guess, it’s a comprehensive package for high-school teachers who want to teach their students about homelessness,” Hales said.