I am a student at Archbishop Moeller High School and was given the opportunity to spend a week at Xavier University through The Mayerson Foundation. The Mayerson Foundation works with many organizations helping to solve problems in the city of Cincinnati. One of their programs shows high school students the real side of Cincinnati by showing us people experiencing homelessness. Now I said that in a very particular way. People aren’t homeless, they are just facing a difficult time. They are experiencing homelessness.
We have the wrong perception with those suffering homelessness. We think they are druggies and they do bad things. Yes, they may have done those bad things, but often they wish they hadn’t.
A worker at the St. Francis-St. Joseph Catholic Worker House said, “When taking these drugs, you only get a minute rush and then it is over. These guys want to get off this stuff because they know it is making them poor and unhealthy. But once they cross this imaginary line, it is difficult to go back.”
When talking to these people, I realized they aren’t nasty. I talked to one guy experiencing homelessness and we started talking about restaurants, he loves Raising Cane’s. Those undergoing difficult times shouldn’t be discriminated against. They are people too with feelings and souls. We shouldn’t treat them like they are garbage.
Be Devoted to one another in Love. Honor one another above yourselves. Romans 12:10
A lady experiencing homelessness talked to us also. Her name was Melisa. Her story stuck with the entire group through the whole week. She has been in poverty her whole life. She was born in Dayton and lived there for a few years and then moved to California at a young age. She was an outcast. She thought about suicide, but decided not to because “things happen and you can overcome them.” She got married and had 5 kids and then got divorced. She only had custody of 1 of her children. She knew her life was in shambles. She eventually did become poor enough that she started living on the streets. Every day she had 3 choices: eat, work, or shower.
Now, she works with the Homeless Coalition. Her main theme was to not treat people experiencing homelessness in a bad manner. If you just smile at them or nod your head at them that could help them through the day. They need that little encouragement that they are still there. They are not invisible.
The Lord is my light and my salvation whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life of whom shall I be afraid? Psalm 27:1
The second day of this journey we went to the Shelter House for Men. This is where men, who pass a test, can sleep and try to get on their feet again. They have to pass a very long test. The intake person asks many questions. He tries to ‘read’ the candidate to see if he can fit in at the Shelter House or not.
Then we took a tour. Living in the shelter house isn’t great. They keep the lights on 24/7 so people have to sleep in light. The beds are like college dorm rooms with mattresses that are very thin and very uncomfortable. Life there would be better than the streets, but way, way worse than the life we have.
One of our group leaders told me, “Every time I go there, it feels like I am in a zoo. We are walking around where they live, sleep, and eat.” When we were touring one of the rooms a guy passed us. He had a comment that has stuck with me since my experience. He said, “Hope you guys never end up in a place like this.” These people don’t want to be homeless. They work hard so they can get their own place and live on their own. They want to buy their own food and make better decisions.
Then we sold StreetVibes. This is an alternate newspaper reporting on local stories that don’t often get reported. StreetVibes are sold to people experiencing homelessness for 75 cents. Then they sell them for $2 each. This is how homeless people earn money for their food for the day. They can buy a hot dog by just selling one, but just selling one would be a good accomplishment because people often ignore them.
My group was put on the street just like the homeless to sell StreetVibes in downtown Cincinnati. People are sometimes so unfeeling; they don’t care about the homeless or other people. I was one of the lucky ones. Some just passed by and said “I would if they had the money” or “Sorry, no thank you.” But some of the other guys in my group weren’t so lucky. One guy in my group got the worst from a nasty business man who passed him and said, “Thank you for interrupting our conversation. We would have passed the restaurant if you hadn’t interrupted me.” They don’t know how much $2 will help them and they may not care.
When we got back to Xavier University dorms, the place we were staying, we had a long talk with a facilitator. In this discussion, most of the group cried. I almost cried. Some of the teens have never been exposed to this world. They are used to in their own community and don’t venture into the city. They don’t know how harsh the real world is. I knew a little bit about this world but not this much.
This experience has changed me. The rest of the week just kept supporting how we shouldn’t judge people based on how much they make and their looks. Surprisingly, we learned that the average age for those in poverty is 9 years old. Yes, you read that right, 9 years old. Children are the ones who need help the most.
Also, this past year, the morgue ran out of room due to the number of overdoses in one day. They had 176 bodies. They have never seen so many people overdose in one day. And, day laborers make very little money. For example, if they worked paving roads, they would make $100. When they get on the bus, they are given their uniform, helmet, food, and anything else they need. They work for 12 hours a day. When they get off the bus, they are given a check for $40. What happens to the $60 they lost? Well, they have pay for the uniform, the helmet, the food, the bus fee, and anything else they need. It seems these people are getting ripped off.
Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you. Deuteronomy 31:6
This week long experience was life changing for me. I hope this has helped to transform how you view people experiencing homelessness, I know it has mine.
Dear Lord, be our guide and our protector on our journey in life. Watch over us, protect from accidents and keep us safe from harm of both body and soul. Support us with your grace when we are tired, help us to be patient in any trouble which may come our way. Let us see You in everyone we meet, not matter how impossible that may seem to us. Keep us always mindful of Your presence in Love. Amen.