By Juliana Trujillo
This Tuesday I went on a retreat called the Homeless Plunge. We started at school, then made our way downtown by bus. Once we got there, we walked several blocks to the St. Francis center for the homeless. They gave us a tour of the place, all the while telling us the reasons why someone might become homeless and what they offered as services. The shelter stays open from 6 am to 6 pm, and people can store their things, giving them an address that they can use for licenses, jobs, and mail. They have shower rooms and a "store" where people can pick their own clothes in exchange for chores. They have an office for people who cannot afford to go across town or who feel more comfortable working at the shelter. At this shelter there was a majority of men, because of a women's shelter a couple of blocks down. There are different centers for men and women and children, because some women have suffered in the past because of men, or they are just not comfortable staying with men.
Then we talked with the one therapist who worked there. She deals with new incomers and assesses their need for medication or other therapy. Mental illness is one of the top, if not the top, reason why people become homeless. And even if they don't have it at first, the stress of living only day to day and predispositions to mental illness actually cause mental illness. That really hit me hard, because even if you don't have any mental health problems, the stress of living can bring it on. And if you have to take sleeping medications, but are sleeping on the streets, you won't, because you have to make sure nothing bad happens to you.
We then went to The Voice newspaper headquarters, where we learned that it is written completely by those who have experienced homelessness, and sold by homeless or "vendors." That was pretty cool, because later I saw people selling them on the streets and understood what that stood for.
Then outreach workers from Urban Peak, a homeless teen organization, and Colorado Coalition for the Homeless came and in groups we walked all around downtown, giving socks to people who wanted them. Some we just said hi, gave them the socks and moved on, but some engaged immediately in conversation. We talked to one man who made unique dreamcatchers out of bike chains, delicate bracelet chains, and pretty geodes or liquor bottles. We could tell he was proud of them, and understandably, because one of them had gotten into an art gallery. He was very optimistic about getting a website to start selling them to a wider population, because that was the best way to do it without a permanent address.
I was pretty tired just riding back, but I could only imagine how the homeless felt, walking and standing all the time. And just talking to them made me realize that for some of the most visible population, they are the most invisible. People see them and walk right on by, never stopping to talk unless it's an outreach worker giving them supplies. And why? Is it because if someone has achieved comfortableness, they don't want to disturb it with someone else's uncomfortable situation? Or do they think it's their fault that they are homeless and they're too lazy to get a job or be productive? All of these things we talked about in a reflection once we returned to the school. If there are any other opinions on that I'd love to know them.
Lastly, when we got back to school, we divided into groups of 5, and were given $5. Then we were told to buy dinner AND breakfast for all 5 of us. We argued about how we could get the most food for less. It was very hard, and my dinner was a piece of bread with turkey, and my breakfast bananas and peanut butter. Breakfast you say? Yes. We slept over at the school- outside that is. We had sleeping bags and pillows but not much else. It was to simulate actually being homeless and having to sleep outside. It was rough, but definitely worth it for the experience. I realized just how privileged I am, having BOTH parents who can clothe and feed me, being able to go to school coming from a warm bed, and driving in a car that I can use pretty much whenever. I am extremely grateful for my experience on this retreat, and if anyone else has a similar opportunity, take it. It's worth it.
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