Oakland high school teaches lesson in helping the homeless

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Instead of sitting behind desks Thursday afternoon, a class of
McClymonds High School students took to the streets of West Oakland
to learn first-hand about one of their neighborhood’s biggest
struggles — homelessness.

As part of an experimental new lesson, engineering and design
teacher Satoshi Suga led his students down rows of tents, lean-tos
draped with ragged tarps, and piles of trash, straight into the
heart of one of the many bleak encampments that line Oakland’s
sidewalks. There, just a few blocks from their school, the group of
about 20 high school seniors tried to connect with their
less-fortunate neighbors.

They were tasked with asking one main question: How can we

Suga hoped the afternoon would be an eye-opening way for his
class to get some real-world experience and make a difference in
other people’s lives.

“They see it every day because they walk to school every day,
and they take BART every day,” he said. “They see that these
people are sleeping in these tents under the bridge, but they
don’t know how to deal with it.”

Suga didn’t expect his students to fix the many societal
problems that lead to homelessness. Instead, he wanted them to ask
the people they met about their day-to-day challenges, such as not
being able to cook, lacking clean water, or fighting rat
infestations. The students will take what they learned back to the
classroom and design a product that could help solve one of those
problems. Then they will return to the encampment to test it

Kimahla Zuberi, 18, decided to try and build an organizer on
wheels to hold clothes and other belongings.

“It will be attachable to a bike,” he explained, “so if
they need to move, they’ll have the opportunity to do that with
all their belongings.”

Zuberi said he learned a lot from his conversations Thursday
about what life is like in an encampment. Now he’s eager to put
that information to good use.

“I’m just ready to help,” he said, “and do something to
make them smile.”

Nikkia Boun, 17, was struck by the lack of water at the
encampments for washing and drinking.

“I feel like there’s some way we could get water out there
for them,” she said.

Along with Suga, West Oakland resident Nathan Moon, who does
volunteer work with the homeless in his neighborhood, acted as the
students’ guide Thursday, introducing them to encampment
residents and showing them around. He came into their classroom
last week to share some of his experiences and get them ready for
Thursday’s trip.

On 23rd Street, the students gathered around a green tent
pitched at the side of the busy road. They asked the woman inside,
45-year-old Catherine Fields, if she was getting enough to eat,
whether she had problems with pests, and whether she had things to
occupy her time every day. Fields told them she needed more food
and things to do, but pests weren’t a problem. The students,
wearing yellow safety vests, took careful notes on their

After the students left, Fields said she thought it was nice
that high school kids were trying to help. They might be more
likely to follow through than adults, she said.

“Kids, they have hearts still,” Fields said. “They still
have a lot of their morals and they have a lot of their values, and
their innocence.”

But some of the conversations were difficult. When the first
person emerged from a tarp-covered lean-to, several students in the
group hung back, looking at each other nervously. Zuberi took
charge and introduced himself politely. He asked what makes life on
the streets hard.

“Everything’s pretty much hard,” said 42-year-old Arthur

When Zuberi asked if there were any resources Long wished he had
more of, Long said “housing.”

But the two eventually developed a rapport, bonding over
football — Zuberi plays outside linebacker, and Long played
inside linebacker.

Long is not homeless but was visiting his brother who lives in
the encampment, and described some of the problems his brother
faces — huge rats, freezing cold and garbage that piles up with
nowhere to put it.

Long said he’s hesitant to trust do-gooders because he’s
seen promises to help the homeless broken. But Thursday felt

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“Seeing the kids do it, that’s something new,” he said.
“It’s a beautiful thing.”

Suga chalked the day up as a success.

“It’s a shot in the dark, but I think the experience itself
— going out there and talking to them, and dispelling a lot of
the stereotypes that they might have about the homeless population
— was a big enough win for me,” he said. “This is baby steps
into a new curriculum.”

Source: FS – All – Real Estate News 1
Oakland high school teaches lesson in helping the homeless