Howard Street Charter students create art for Salem’s unprotected community


Howard Street Charter School wants to help homeless people in the Salem community. And they do it the best way they know how — by sharing their art.

Howard Street, which teaches students in grades 6-8, is unique in its structure as students must take courses in art, drama, Spanish and STEM – science, technology, engineering and math – all throughout their registration.

This year, each of the school’s 188 students will create an artwork on an 8 x 10 inch canvas using pencils or watercolors.

They hope to complete the first round of work by spring break, then make a second piece afterward, likely focusing on other mediums and materials that could be used for outdoor decorating.

The students’ one-of-a-kind pieces will be on display at the Salem Arts Association‘s Bush Barn this spring before people living in Pallet micro-shelters around the city can take them to brighten up their space.

“When (someone) lives on the street, they think about their immediate needs – food, clothing, housing,” said art teacher Lena James. “When they get to move into a shelter, it’s good to make it feel like theirs, even if it’s only temporary.”

Salem City Council approved three new micro-shelter village sites earlier this month, one of which will eventually replace the Hope Village site at 2640 Portland Road NE, near the old building. DMV. The other existing village is at 3737 Portland Road NE.

The shelters have room for two people, allow them to secure their belongings and offer them a safe and warm place to sleep. Advocates say this allows homeless people to stabilize, seek care and connect to more permanent housing solutions.

James said she hopes the recipients take the art with them wherever they go next, and that they know there are people in the community who care.

“For students, (the project is about) developing empathy and understanding for others who aren’t as fortunate as they are,” James said.

“We want them to know this is a problem and that they can do something about it,” she said, adding that they hope students will feel empowered by this. work to do more. “Even little things will help.”

‘What can we do as middle schoolers?’

Since moving to downtown Howard Street in 2020, James said the homeless community is much more visible to students and staff.

Local agencies estimate that more than 1,000 people are homeless or without stable housing in the area, in addition to hundreds of Salem-Keizer public school children.

More than 400 people are on a waiting list for the Salem micro-shelters.

Youth:Hundreds of homeless children fell off the radar in Salem during COVID

Throughout December, Howard Street students met via Zoom with local experts — including advocates for local shelters and nonprofits, as well as city officials and city councilors — to learn more. on the current state of homelessness in Salem.

The students then immersed themselves in reflective conversations in class in January.

Year seven student Tyler Astorga draws vignettes based on the ideas of love, hope, friendship and joy Wednesday at Howard Street Charter School.

“Why do you think people are homeless?” Professor Robert Salberg asked his class earlier this month.

Maybe they don’t have family support, one student suggested. Another student loan debt listed. Others mentioned facing addiction or mental health issues, losing a job, being affected by the 2020 wildfires or surviving domestic violence.

Salberg, who teaches theater arts and health and fitness on Howard Street, originally got the idea for the Pallet Art Project when he and a few colleagues practically attended a training last fall through the High Tech High in San Diego focused on learning through projects.

Salem:Homeless camping expands in downtown Marion Square Park

Students read an article about the 12 Myths of Homelessness and asked what barriers people may face in getting help, such as having a pet, living in poor health, or not having ID appropriate.

They talked about Housing First initiatives that aim to ensure people in difficulty have stable housing before meeting other needs. The students asked themselves: “What can we do as middle school students to help?

A sense of belonging

Sixth graders Sasha Atchison and Georgia Luechtefeld Russell write thumbnail sketches based on different inspirational words Wednesday at Howard Street Charter School.

Over the next few weeks, Howard Street students will work with local alumni and artists to create their unique works of art. Most will be for inside the Palette shelters, but if they get enough volunteers, principal Christina Tracy said they also hope to make art for outdoor enjoyment.

August Woodward, 12, started working on possible designs this week.

Students were tasked with choosing the words they want to communicate through their art, such as comfort, security, bravery, friendship, or grace.

Woodward was working on their illustration for “Hope,” in which a person is shrouded in darkness but carries a lantern that shines brightly.

The seventh grader also chose the word “belonging”.

“I know a lot of people who are homeless,” Woodward said. “Usually when they get, for example, what they need in life, like a place to stay, they usually don’t feel like they deserve it, or they don’t feel like they belong. in this location.”

Woodward said they wanted to draw a family welcoming an alien or something that society doesn’t approve of to show that they can belong and be accepted, and that they deserve support.

Woodward is nervous about sharing their art as they are still finding their own style as an artist. Although art is a hobby that Woodward enjoys, they said they would like to make it a bigger priority.

“I’m just exploring new ideas and different hobbies,” they said. “I’m still a kid and I don’t know exactly what catches my eye.”

To learn more about this project and the Howard Street Charter School, visit

Contact education reporter Natalie Pate at [email protected], 503-399-6745, Twitter @NataliePateGwinor Facebook at


Comments are closed.