Educating the Homeless: Education without Borders

Educating the Homeless

Homeless people’s lives can be transformed with the proper support. (Photo Credit: All Voices)

For those of us concerned about social and economic justice, we must not forget the numerous homeless individuals in America.  Although it’s senseless for people to be homeless in the richest nation in the world, too many people don’t have a place to call home.  Educators and students at the K – College level can be valuable individuals in helping the homeless to ameliorate their lives.  At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the concept of the Wisconsin Idea is heavily promoted.  The philosophy emerging from the Wisconsin Idea is that research that is performed in the University of Wisconsin System should be used to solve problems and improve the lives of the denizens of the state of Wisconsin.  The Wisconsin Idea has, however, been interpreted more broadly to include people across the nation and world.  The research that educators and students are engaged in should be employed to help solve problems and enhance people’s lives, including the lives of the homeless.  Educators and students must use their knowledge, talents, skills, and research to provide the homeless with a practical and essential education.

Teachers and students can form organizations focused on enhancing the education of homeless individuals.  In these organizations, they can identify the extant knowledge, skills, and interests of the homeless and assist them in turning those things into mediums for securing food, clothing, and shelter.  The goal should be to educate them about how they can not only obtain food, clothing and shelter without dependency on government, but also how they can grow and prosper with these things.  In the beginning, there’s nothing wrong with informing them where they can receive government assistance, but don’t cause them to evolve a governmental dependency mindset.  Teachers and students are engaging in cutting-edge research, research that can aid people in surviving without government.

Educators and students can learn the homeless about cover letters and resumes.  Working with the homeless, educators and students should create cover letters and resumes for them.  They should also help them to fill out job applications and give them references to buttress their applications.  It should never be assumed that all homeless individuals lack work experience, considering many people who are homeless were once employed.

In these newly constructed non-profit organizations, their leaders should seek federal and state funding for the programs, activities, services, and/or products intended to be offered to the homeless.  For the individuals working in these organizations, pay them—although the emphasis should be on devoting the majority of the funding to the homeless.  Always maximize the amount of money you provide in direct support of the homeless.

Be sure what you’re educating the homeless about is something they can practically use.  For example, there’s no need to provide them with academic instruction about astrophysics but basic money management can be quite useful to them.

At the beginning of your interactions with the homeless individuals you serve, express to them a willingness to mentor them throughout their transition from homelessness to success.  These individuals will always need to benefit from mentorship.  In many cases, homeless people don’t have anyone to listen to them and aren’t given an opportunity to share their innermost feelings.  Teachers and students can be that needed listening ear.

The professional literature has limited research on mentoring homeless people.  Teachers and students should, therefore, begin to fill the critical gaps in the professional literature in this area of research.

It’s often stated that “education is power.”  Well, let’s unleash this power to ameliorate the lives of homeless Americans.  They’re valuable people who need our commitment and support.

Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison

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