The following was written by a recent college student participant of NCH’s Homeless Challenge program, as a reflection on the experience:
“When I entered the world of the homeless all I had were the clothes on my back, a sleeping bag, and the preconceptions and stereotypes I had created throughout my 21 years of existence. Having grown up with an uncle who struggled with homelessness for a length measured in years, I thought I knew it all. But you can’t truly understand what it’s like through a story.
Forty-eight hours may not seem like a long time now, but those two days held a week’s worth of activities and a lifetime’s worth of change. We walked many miles, mostly because when we weren’t walking, we were cold. When we got tired of walking, we watched businessmen walk past us. We became invisible. We got used to being invisible, we took advantage of being invisible, and then we got sick of being invisible. We appreciated the small things. Celebrations were often but short lived, like smiles. We befriended pigeons, squirrels, and other homeless people, the only things not scared of us. We experienced the homeless community. We made friends. We saw the city.
We scoured the trash. We searched for caring eyes, but instead found averted eyes. We went crazy. And we became sane. We found the meaning to life, the importance of friendship, the power of money, and the makeup of happiness. We transformed.
When we finished the challenge, we had the opportunity to hear the Faces of Homelessness Speakers’ Bureau. My uncle and two other wonderful speakers stood at the front of the room, taking turns sharing their stories to a room full of transfixed students. Hearing my uncle turn back the pages of his life, recounting his struggles and tragedies, my mind was reeling with empathy and understanding. I have lived my story for 21 years.
But for the past two days, I lived his.”