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University of the Streets: Education for the Homeless

The Temple began a program in which congregants teach what they know best to homeless residents at a neighborhood shelter. In addition, the Temple created a library for the homeless shelter and formed a tutoring program.

250 East 79th Street
New York, New York 10021
(212) 535-8008

Target Groups: Adults 

The University of the Streets
As is often the case at a large and vibrant congregation, the members of Temple Shaaray Tefila (TST) have an eclectic assortment of special areas of interest, talents, expertise, hobbies, experiences, and skills to share. The congregation’s social action committee has asked them to volunteer as faculty members of University of the Streets.

In cooperation with the Neighborhood Coalition for Shelter, TST has created a mini 'Free University' for homeless residents of the Upper East Side. Faculty members give just an hour of their time at a shelter or drop-in center to talk about what they know best and what they would enjoy sharing with others. Topics include: current events, a slide show of a recent vacation, what's happening at the movies, yoga, exercises for pain relief, story-telling, botany, physiology, dental health, and any aspect of music or art. All volunteers are briefed before their presentation and accompanied by a staff member during their presentation.

Goals of University of the Streets

  • To spark a little interest in a people who don't have many opportunities to engage in learning for its own sake.
  • To engage shelter residents in a new way with the world around them, even for a few moments.
  • To encourage homeless people to think about something they may never before have considered.

Mini Libraries for the Homeless
Although many homeless people enjoy reading, they do not have access to libraries without an address for a library card. TST's Wednesday soup kitchen is now the home of a library cart, stocked with books donated by congregants. In addition, the committee will supply a book cart and books to the Yorkville Common Pantry, a New York agency, which feeds thousands of meals a week to poor and homeless people. When other churches and synagogues follow suit, guests will be able to take books and return them to any one of the participating soup kitchens. Regular clients at the soup kitchen have distinct preferences in reading material, so only science fiction, fantasy, novels, and biographies are being collected. One person’s old books are a homeless person's treasure!

Temple Shaaray Tefila also serves the Neighborhood Coalition for Shelter by providing Literacy Tutors for some of their highly motivated, pre-screened adults. Volunteers receive training, as well as appropriate materials for use in instruction. Materials are donated through TST's Social Action Fund. Volunteers commit to at least two sessions per week with their students, to help them to learn some of the basics in reading and math. The ability to read signs, fill out job applications and make sure they've received the correct change can make a real difference for people who are desperate to find a measure of independence.