My freshly pressed clothes, ready to go into my backpack.
I loaded up my backpack, heavy duty sleeping bag, and freshly cleaned pillow to make my homeless stay as ideal as possible. I was ready. It was go time.
Homelessness: The NorthFace Way
With my backpack on, my massive sleeping bag and pillow in hand, I walked up to a group of people sitting in a circle. You’ve been there, right? That awkward initial meeting of a group about to participate in a poverty simulation? It was all fun and games and giggles. And then things got real.
"You won’t have access to anything you brought with you."
I’m going to be totally honest with you: I almost walked out.
I stared at my backpack and my mind reeled: I spent hours thinking about and planning and organizing that stupid backpack. And for what?
I ironed seven shirts and five pairs of shorts (there’s never an excuse for wrinkles). I had my organic Kind Bars from Whole Foods hidden inside my toiletries bag.
I was going to be the most prepared person there. I had thought through everything.
Let me give you some examples:
- Insect Repellant. I am allergic to any sort of insect bite – I’m talking massive red welps.
- Face Sunscreen. For those with sensitive skin who require a higher SPF and an oil-free application.
- Body Sunscreen. Yes, I packed two sunscreens.
- Baby Powder. Travel size, of course. If I can’t wash my hair, a good two shakes of baby powder is the next best thing.
- Shower Shoes. College dorm-room style.
For over a year now, I have witnessed the daily experiences that come with being homeless. I have stood next to people for hours as they waited in line to make sure they got a bed at the shelter. I have sat with people on pieces of cardboard to keep from getting ant bites. I have seen blistered skin on people because any place with shade wasn’t a legal option.
Before the simulation, I was so excited to get to be with my homeless friends. I thought I had enough experience to anticipate what a “poverty simulation” would be like.
Here’s what actually happened: I was caught off guard and found myself in a vulnerable situation. Without getting into specifics – you’ll have to do the poverty simulation to find out more – I lost the ability to provide for myself. My lack of control was something I was unable to come to terms with -- until I got hungry.
This was a kind of hunger that was unfamiliar. This hunger wasn’t met with the promise of a meal.
In short, after twelve hours, I wasn’t in a good place mentally, and I wasn’t in a good place physically. I needed help, and my friends living in the neighborhood came through for me.
My homeless friends knew it was a simulation. They knew I would survive. They had every right to let me really struggle to make sure I understood what they go through.
But they didn’t.
When I was hungry, they gave me food.
When I was thirsty, they gave me something to drink.
When I was in a dark place and needed friendship, they met me there.
All of my needs were anticipated and met without my asking.
Here's the thing: I did a poverty simulation to step further into the world of my homeless friends. But during those two days something very different happened. They stepped into mine.
Day 2: Our little group attempting to survive on the streets.
P.S.: A special shout-out to my dear friends at St. Jude Catholic Church who experienced it all with me! You will always hold a special place in my heart. Thank you for opening yourselves up to the process. You were an example to me.