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Activities to Teach Teenagers About Poverty & Homelessness

author image Shellie Braeuner
Based in Nashville, Shellie Braeuner has been writing articles since 1986 on topics including child rearing, entertainment, politics and home improvement. Her work has appeared in "The Tennessean" and "Borderlines" as well as a book from Simon & Schuster. Braeuner holds a Master of Education in developmental counseling from Vanderbilt University.
Activities to Teach Teenagers About Poverty & Homelessness
Teaching teens compassion for the homeless helps them learn compassion for life. Photo Credit BananaStock/BananaStock/Getty Images

Teens need to have compassion for people at risk of poverty and homelessness. Homelessness is an issue that has received a lot of attention, and that attention has helped. In its executive summary, the National Alliance to End Homelessness reports that every sub-group of the homeless population has decreased, except for homeless families. Many teens and children face the reality of homelessness every day, and helping teens understand the plight of the homeless might help them understand the students he meets every day.

Hunger 101

For a week, plan full meals for the family with an entree, soup, bread and dessert. Before the meal, cut 20 slips of paper. Mark three with the figure one, mark five with the figure two and mark 12 with the figure three. Just before the meal, everyone picks a slip of paper. Whoever chooses a slip that says “one,” gets to eat the First World meal that includes everything on the table. Anyone who picks the slip that says “two,” eats a meal common in the Second World, where food is not quite as abundant. This includes soup, bread and milk. And those who get the slip with the three eat a Third World meal of bread and water. Talk about how it felt to eat little in the presence of abundance. If your teen got to eat everything, ask how it felt to have plenty while those at the table had little. Discuss how this affects someone on the street who is surrounded by plenty and unable to afford a meal.

Eviction Notice

Talk to your teen’s school and plan a day of homeless awareness. Right after morning announcements, hand a portion of students “eviction notices.” Do not explain why. These evicted students have only a few minutes to clean out what they will need for the day from their lockers. Lock the students out of their lockers for the rest of the day. The student must then carry all books, papers and pencils for the day without help. If a student leaves a book in class, it is confiscated. At the end of the day, take the locks off the lockers and talk to the entire class about the experience. Ask how the “evicted students” felt throughout the day. Ask if other students treated them differently. Talk to the students that weren’t evicted. Ask whether they wanted to help their friends or if they were afraid that the evicted students were in trouble. If your teen's school won't participate, try evicting your teen from her bedroom for the weekend.

Want Ads

For many, homelessness is only one paycheck away. Help your teen understand some of the causes of homelessness. Ask her to go through the classifieds and find a job that fits her current level of education. After she has found the best paying job available, ask her to figure out her potential monthly income. Then ask the teen to go through the classifieds again and find an apartment. Go through a budget that includes utilities, food and transportation. Help your teen see how little can be put into savings at the end of the month. This shows her that, for some, homelessness is just one paycheck away.

Homeless Awareness Lock Out

Invite your teen’s friends over for a lockout. The teens can bring only one backpack with everything they need for the weekend. In the weeks before the lockout, collect cardboard and other large pieces of scrap for shelters. Give each teen the opportunity to build a shelter in the yard. The teens will then live in their shelter for the weekend. They must carry their backpacks with them at all times. As the chaperone, you have the responsibility to confiscate any backpacks left unattended. Each teen must do some kind of physical labor in order to earn a simple meal. At the end of the weekend, talk to the teens about how it felt to live outside and have no shelter or security, even if it’s just for a weekend.

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