Teens experience homelessness through a special program

9:36 AM, Jun 25, 2013   |    comments
  • Share
  • Print
  • - A A A +

ATLANTA -- Early morning, in a locked playground, 14 middle school student s start day three of their five day homeless immersion course.

"How did y'all sleep last night?" said Elizabeth Hearn, Director, New Teacher Residency Project, Atlanta Neighborhood Charter School.

The kids have spent the night sleeping on the ground with one blanket each. They have no change of clothes. And they wear shoes donated to the homeless.

"We only have $4 and most of us already spent that on food," said student Evy DiSalvo.

With that $4 they bought dry ramin noodles, Pop-Tarts or bread that has become smashed up as they carry it with their blankets in garbage bags.

The students attend Atlanta's Neighborhood Charter Middle School and the Paideia School, and they were selected for the Homeless Immersion Project after writing an essay about their interest in the program.

"I wanted to come because my parents always told me that I should learn the value of a dollar because I always ask and ask and ask and I don't always give," said Jovany Loredo, a student.

Each day they walk 12 to 14 miles, carrying everything in garbage bags. They visit shelters to talk with the homeless and those devoted to helping them.

After a few days, the students begin to change their preconceived notions about the homeless.

"I think fear has broken down and it's slowly developed into compassion," Hearn said.

"I thought people were dirty and mean all the time," Jovany said.

"(I thought of them as) being drunk or sleeping in dirty looking blankets on the side of the road," said Miles Calderon, a student.

"We've talked to people, who haven't done any kind of drugs or anything like that, but they're just unlucky and lost their job," said Emma Tucker, a student.

After a few days on the streets, the students also experienced from others, some of how the homeless are treated.

"(We're) pretty dirty. But nobody's (saying) 'What are you doing?' They're not looking at us. They're not catching our eye," Miles said.

During a rest in a park, authorities made the students leave. Another time, a business didn't let them use the restroom.

Yet, they know they're not truly experiencing homelessness.

"We're not experiencing the emotional pain as much because they don't know if they're ever going to ever get out of homeless. But we know that this Saturday, we're going back home," Evy said.

And, when they do...

"I think I'll try to educate people. Just when I see homeless people in the future, I'll talk with them. Give them some bread," said Emma.

Most Watched Videos