by PAULA DAVIES
THE problem of the homeless has captured the imagination of schoolchildren and young people everywhere. You might almost say it has fired their imagination, for what with everything from sponsored walks to sponsored silence — that must have been painful — they have done more than most people to raise funds for the homeless.
Now. however, the kids are going to be on the receiving end — not of money or a home, but of education. It might fairly be thought a little strange to teach children about housing, but that is exactly what Shelter plans to do.
"I've worked with young people since Shelter started," said Eileen Ware, the Youth Director, "and I am convinced that learning about housing is every bit as important as the three R's."
Miss Ware and Pamela Meir, the Education Officer, set up the project a year ago and the result of their work is a five part educational programme which teachers are already anxious to use.
"The teachers are very interested," said Pam Meir, "but because they have so little time to build up material they might never get started without our work."
The first four schools are already lined up, and will start the programme in January. Each section consists of a kit with a booklet, photographs or slides, and tapes.
The first, called "Home Sweet Hell," is on the slums. The second is "Who Are the Homeless?" And the third, 4:Down Our Way" is about the effects of a bad environment on children and the help a good school can give.
"Yesterday. Today and Tomorrow" is a look at housing policies over the years and the business of improvement grants and so on. "A Home of Your Own," likely to be the most popular of all, is the story of how different couples go about looking for a home of their own.
The slides are simple. even funny, but remarkably effective. The couple who make a mess of their early married life are shown having an expensive wedding, flying off to an even more expensive honeymoon and then living with mum.
The glum looks of the young husband sitting in front of the telly with mother-in-law cannot help but make you laugh. They no longer seem so funny, however, when later in the story the couple are shown tramping round seedy property with a baby, desperate for somewhere to live.
The sensible couple who save money before they get married, go on cheap holidays and generally behave with a wisdom beyond their years, seem a trifle sanctimonious. But, as Eileen Ware put it : "They are less attractive to look at than the other couple, so we hope this will make up for what seems a rather goodygoody attitude."
The booklets, which come in each kit will provide the children with the basic information, and then they will be expected to do something like a special school project on It.
"The reading of the information is the smallest part of it," said Pam Meir. "We want them to get out of school and look at their neighbourhood. They could do a play or just a survey of what local people think about the housing in their town."
Eileen Ware added "They might also do a project on a budget. They could be asked to compare the cost of £500 spent on a deposit on a house, for example, with the same amount spent on a motorbike or an expensive holiday or even a white wedding. What we are hoping to do is to make them think."
It would be difficult not to think about the problem of finding somewhere to live after seeing and working with these projects. As Bishop Casey, better known to the homeless as Fr. Eamonn, puts it to young people : "Before you catch your 'bird' get a cage for her."
The main emphasis in the entire programme is on buying a house rather than renting anything, and on getting down to saving before thinking of getting married.
"So many of the families who end up homeless need never have done so," said Eileen Ware. "Some couples who could buy a house think that they cannot do so.
"Others who start trying fall down on the problem half way through. We're in business to help the homeless, and it seems only sensible to try to prevent the problem before it starts."
A three-year programme costs £30,000. If it prevents only a few families from suffering it will have been worth while.