HourSchool began as a research project about homelessness when co-founders Ruby Ku and Alex Pappas were at the Austin Center for Design.
"We met with homeless people, listened to their stories, and learned about their good and bad days. Contrary to common belief, homelessness is not just the guy you see at the corner of the street or on the side of a freeway. 40% of the homeless population in Austin is made up of women and children with an average age of 7. They often have little or no safety nets, and when they're hit with even rougher times, they end up homeless. The biggest problem is perception - both in how society perceives people experiencing homelessness, and how that perception affects the way they perceive themselves.
Our perception changed the day we began asking one simple question: ‘What's the best part of your day?’
Over and over again, we heard that the best part of their day was when they could help others and share what they know - from where to buy a bus pass and writing a resume to cooking and painting.
A common way of thinking about the homeless is with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, describing that the most fundamental of needs (like food and water) must be served before one can move up into other needs (such as self-esteem and being part of a community). Many social service agencies work extremely hard to provide the homeless with these fundamental goods and services. But we believe they are not enough to lift someone out of homelessness.
If the Maslow’s hierarchy considered from a bird’s eye point of view, self-actualization is at the core of what makes us human. It is an innate human need for us to not just be able to live, but also to have the desire to live. That desire is often what separates between the chronically homeless and the ones that are trying to change their situations. For homeless people to feel empowerment to change their situations, we began to look at how they could help others; thereby, how the homeless could achieve self-actualization. Our innate need to share and give remains true regardless of our economic situation. HourSchool was built as a launchpad for everyone seeking to give, share, teach and learn - one hour at a time.