Addressing Homelessness in the Community: Creating Solutions for All Local People without Homes – Digital Promise

Addressing Homelessness in the Community: Creating Solutions for All Local People without Homes

In 2021, educators from throughout the United States of America were invited to participate in the Maker Learning @ Home cohort, a six-month professional learning experience for educators committed to continuing opportunities for making while learners are at home.

Dexter McCarty Middle School

Matthew O’Reilly is a former classroom teacher at Dexter McCarty Middle School. He is currently serving as an assistant principal in the Bethel School District in Eugene, OR. He believes that his superpower is that he is an “idea factory.”

Headshot of Matthew O'Reilly

About Dexter McCarty Middle School

Community Needs and Collaboration

We talked about how the county has services that are already offered that are not being accessed. We worked on empathizing with this group to figure out why these services were not being accessed and then began ideating to come up with solutions.

Much of the work that is done here by the facilitator starts with helping students identify an issue in their community. Once they have addressed this, the next step is to talk about empathy and ways that we can empathize with others. Depending on the age of students and life circumstances, this may be easy or more difficult, but it is a necessary step that cannot be skipped. Helping students produce open-ended questions and facilitating safe interviews is the next part for the adult.

If the learners needed to talk to an expert to learn about how they might create a setting for them to successfully take their services on the road, I would work to set up a Zoom interview with one. If students found that they needed material to complete the model/build, I would work within the community to secure it for them.

Learner Voice and Choice

As we got deeper into this project, students assumed leadership and the planning of activities. They decided to begin by creating weekly agendas for our class using backward design. In the early stages, I was more in charge of creating the agenda. Once they had a more concrete idea of what they were doing, the transition happened fairly naturally. My role at this point was mainly to facilitate their needs, such as learning Tinkercad or obtaining materials, setting up pick-ups/drop-offs, etc. Students collaborated with one another throughout this project. We also collaborated with an engineer who did some more complex computer aided design/drafting (CAD) work for us. Our students have also interviewed a food truck owner, a therapist, and a social worker, and they worked together to create the interview questions as well. Student voice drove the theme of this project and also the themes of the needs that would be provided and/or met for our homeless population. We worked out of a digital notebook using Google Slides that we could use to record our ideas as we started to design the different containers/trailers. We also created a schematics template that students could use in Chrome Canvas to draw out their ideas.. Students created a “shopping list” of materials that they were interested in using to create their models of the differently themed containers (kitchen, restrooms, social workers).

Designing for accessibility is an eye-opener! While we were in the process of creating our models, one of our students with learning differences really helped us realize how to meet the needs of all the participants in our project. These ideas could then be expounded into our work creating solutions for our community. We asked ourselves, 'How can we meet the needs of all the people experiencing homelessness, not just the masses but any person in that situation?'
Matthew O'Reilly


This project began during a time period when students were learning at home through virtual means. As 6th graders, this was one of their first “maker mindset” experiences. As time passed and we got deeper into this project and grant, the local health measures changed and it allowed students to return to school on a hybrid schedule. Students were given the choice to come to school or continue learning at home.

A focus that we had was to provide the same access to the learning and materials for all students that were involved in this project. We accomplished this through continuing to meet in our virtual classroom as a team with students in the classroom as well as at home.

Project Culmination

The culmination of this project led to the possibility of students proposing the solution to the local government. In this specific case, we explored the idea of approaching the mayors in the Portland metro area and sharing our schematics, ideas, and models with them.

Lessons Learned

  • For educators who may be interested in developing and showcasing what their learners make, I recommend, first and foremost, securing permission from the learners and their families.
  • Ensure students have the chance to share their work in the way that they want to. If they are willing, let the student be there and have a voice in the showcase. Having the ability to create the lens that their creation is seen through is important to our creators. Practice and preparation are huge for young creators who are showcasing their work.
  • Finding the right audience for the learners’ work is big as well. We talked about taking our work to city hall and talking to our local government about the work that we have done. We also discussed having an open discussion of how we might be able to implement it in our actual work to support our residents navigating homelessness.
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