Homelessness and Poetry

In this lesson students will ponder poetry that speaks about homelessness and then write their own poem.
Grade Level


Activities will help students:

  • Read and understand a poem
  • Write a poem based on their own life experiences
  • Understand the personal nature of homelessness
  • Empathize with homeless families
Essential Questions
  • Who do you think of when you think of a homeless family? Why? 
  • What would you imagine that children in a homeless family might think of when they look at you?
  • How can we have more empathy for families who find themselves without homes?


affidavit [ afiˈdāvit ] (noun) a written declaration upon oath made before an authorized official

evict [ iˈvikt ] (verb) to expel (a person, especially a tenant) from land, a building, etc., by legal process, as for nonpayment of rent

foreclosure [ fôrˈklō zh ər ] (noun) the act of taking possession of a mortgage property or pledge

landlord [ ˈlan(d)ˌlôrd ]  (noun) a person or organization that owns and leases apartments to others

lease  [ lēs  ]  (noun) a contract renting land, buildings, etc., to another.

slander  [ slandər ] (noun) a malicious, false, and defamatory statement or report

tenant [ tenənt ] (noun) a person or group who rents and occupies land, a house, an office, from another for a period of time



  1. Before reading a poem about being homeless, take a few moments to imagine what it must be like to be part of a homeless family. To help you build a picture, brainstorm any questions you may have. You might raise questions, such as: Where is a place that you’d go to sleep? Would you feel it’s a safe place to rest?
  2. Get together with a partner and share the questions you raised. Take turns answering each other’s questions, then share your discussion with the class.
  3. Read the poem “Homeless.” The poem was actually written by someone who was homeless and who used the name “Homeless” to sign the poem. What does that tell you? What do you think the poem means?
  4. Using the handout, list as many items as you can. Below are some guiding questions:
    • What are the most important relationships in your life? Your parents or caregivers? Your grandparents? An aunt or uncle? Your best friend at school? Do you realize that every homeless person is someone’s child and is (or was) loved as deeply as you love the people who are your important relationships?
    • Homelessness knows no boundaries. Homeless people can be of any race or ethnicity. What is the racial makeup of your community?
    • Think about your schedule for the day. You have school and responsibilities, such as homework. Perhaps you have chores to do after school. What do you think homeless people do if they have no home or job?
    • Have you ever seen homeless people in your community? What do you think and feel when you see homeless people? Have you ever thought of what they might be thinking about you? When you see someone who is homeless and you are in close proximity to them, what do you do, how do you act?
    • Think about what you do at home when homework and chores are done and you are simply relaxing. What are some of your favorite activities to do at home?
    • Take a moment and think about your bedroom. How is it set up? How much space do you have? Do you share a room or do you have your own? Do you have a dresser or closet for your clothing? Do you have art hanging on the walls? Do you have special items that you especially treasure?
  5. Use your list and place your own thoughts and experiences in the blank spaces of the poem on the right side of the handout. Remember that most homeless people have people who love them, they probably grew up with beds and closets of clothing, and they enjoyed doing many of the same kinds of activities that you do today.
  6. Share your poems with your family and friends.

Applying What You've Learned

Effective learners connect what they learn to their own lives. Think about what you have learned in this lesson. Discuss the following questions with a classmate or answer them in a journal.

  • Are homeless people lazy and that’s why they lose their homes? 
  • Why do you think the general stereotype of homelessness is so negative?  
  • What are reasons people lose their homes? Are any of these reasons out of their control? Are any of these reasons unfair?
  • When you think about your own home now, what thoughts do you have?


Extension Activity

  1. There are at least two ways to lose your home today. One is to be evicted and the other is through foreclosure. What do you already know about this topic? What is the purpose for studying this topic? Share your opinions with your classmates.
  2. One reason people get evicted is because they can’t pay their rent. With a partner, discuss the question: Whose fault do you think it is when people can’t pay their rent? Then silently read the poem by Robert Flanagan and answer the questions at the bottom of the handout.
Teaching Tolerance collage of images

Welcome to Learning for Justice—Formerly Teaching Tolerance!

Our work has evolved in the last 30 years, from reducing prejudice to tackling systemic injustice. So we’ve chosen a new name that better reflects that evolution: Learning for Justice.

Learn More