By Freddy and Anthony
[As part of the San Jose immersion, students participate in a "Homeless Simulation" in an effort to learn as close to first hand as possible what a day in the life of a homeless individual in San Jose is like. This program is facilitated by Sacred Heart Community Service each year. The students are given a list of tasks that Sacred Heart staff have established as regular events in the lives of their homeless clients.]
We started off our day with Carol telling us not to shower or “do hygiene” and that we were gonna be homeless from 9 to 3. I’m pretty sure everybody was nervous in some way about how the day would go, not really knowing if we’d offend the people we met somehow, or even worse, if they’d just
ignore us all together.
When we arrived at Sacred Heart, Carol gave us a bin to choose “new” clothes from and only gave us minimal instructions and then literally kicked us out. We split up into groups of two: Barbara and Nova; Mark and I; Anthony and Michelle; Rawley and Andrea; Lauren, Heidi and Sachin.
Mark and I first checked off applying for a job by going to Southern Lumber Co. right next to Sacred Heart and then a small Mexican restaurant down the street. The lumber store had applications but no openings, and the Mexican restaurant had no applications and no openings and both were minimum wage.
Since Carol told us to not have breakfast too we had to figure out a place we could go to get a free meal. Our directions said to go to the Little Orchard Shelter, which the restaurant owner told us was only a mile down the street. When we got there though, they wouldn’t give us food because we weren’t in their program but we could sleep there for the night, so we were at least able to check off another item. But a new friend of ours, Peta Pete (“you won’t forget it”) came in the clutch and told
us that St. Anthony’s Cathedral (actually called St. Joseph’s) on San Fernando and Market served hot lunches around noon. We start walking out of Little Orchard after making a couple friends and hearing a couple stories and run into some old friends, Anthony and Michelle. We told them that Little Orchard didn’t have food and so from then on we joined forces and embarked on an epic journey to San Fernando and Market. On our expedition we took detours to ask for jobs at Geico, GameStop, McDonald’s, SubWay, and Mark at a Credit Union in his one of a kind outfit, a Jean
jacket, a women’s bucket hat and a garbage bag of cans and bottles.
As we collected bottles along the way, we had dreams of Jack in the Box tacos filled our heads. We ultimately got $3.60 for our troubles at a local scrap metal shop, which I have no doubt in my mind was the most valuable $3.60 I have ever seen come out of an ATM.
One of the checklist items was to get a free ride from a bus driver, which was even harder for a group of four people on a busy Tuesday afternoon. Walking down Monterey, we decided that we’re going to ask the next bus where it goes and just bite the bullet and ask for a ride. Right away, a bus stopped next to us. I went up to its doors and asked the driver if the bus goes to San Fernando and
Market. He said it stopped a block short. Michelle asks the driver if the four of us could have a ride for free. And the nice guy almost has no choice but to tell us to hop on. We ended up all sitting together in the back after a couple stops and started reliving our adventures through the scrap yard, dumpsters, and our taco dreams.
Next to us, a man named Bill in his early thirties with glasses and wearing jeans, a button-up shirt, and pullover sweater seemed fairly interested in our conversation and asked what our stop was. We told him we’re going to get some food from the cathedral downtown. Apparently, he had the same stop for a doctor’s appointment at a nearby hospital. We started talking about all the services for homeless in San Jose and about our immersion program with Sacred Heart. He told us that he was actually homeless once in Contra Costa and on his first night he was so tired and just wanted to lie down so bad that he jumped into an empty dumpster to sleep. But 10 minutes later the cops showed up and told him to get his hands up and get out of the dumpster. They told him that neighbors reported him and he had to go somewhere else. He was so tired and desperate that he asked them if they could take him to jail for at least the night so that he could at least lie down, but since he hadn’t done anything illegal they couldn’t help him.
He was homeless for only a month, but he talked about how lucky we were to have each other, that our situation was only temporary and that the worst part by far for him was the loneliness he felt and the isolation he felt during that month. He ultimately decided that he wanted to help us out, and he offered to house us for the night. We told him that we could just sleep at the Little Orchard Shelter for the night, and he decided he at least wanted to accompany us to the cathedral and show us the way around. His story touched all of us and we kept talking to him more on the way to the church, but as we would later find out all of us were thinking the same thing: Oh crap, he misunderstood, he thinks were a quartet of actually homeless teenagers with nowhere to go and not in an immersion trip as
we told him.
When we got off the bus we thanked the bus driver like a hundred times for the free ride and all five of us walked to the church. Bill found out for us that they served lunch in a half hour at 1:30. We stood there for a second and then he finally asked us “What are you going to do after this?” A mutual feeling filled all of us because we didn’t want to lie to this incredibly nice man but also did not want
to make him feel deceived or betrayed. Mark ripped the proverbial band-aid off for us and told Bill that we were going back to school and then just restated everything he earlier said about our immersion trip and why were doing it. His face halted for a second and then the most honest expression of relief filled his face as he told us how happy he was that he didn’t have to worry about us. He was so genuinely happy for us, moving entirely past the misunderstanding of the situation and directly to how much he cared about us. As he was about to go he asks us to pray for him as we are about to go to bed that night, to which Mark asks about what specifically and he responds, “Strength.” Strength to move forward because even though he had food and a roof over his head now he was still alone and the loneliness was by far the worst part of it all. Our hearts reached out to Bill and Mark showed great initiative and started a pretty emotional 4-stop hug train. He left for his doctor’s appointment and we walked around the church thinking about this great person we’d just met which somehow led to us going on a tour where we learned how the windows were made red in the cathedral by being oxidized with a lot of gold. We then made our way back to Sacred Heart.
The rest of the day, all I could think about was Bill and how crazy it was that someone in his situation, who had been through hard times would just reach out to four people he had never met before and be so open about his past, his present, and about the strength he needed in his future. The fact that the man who was homeless was reaching out to us to help us in whatever way he could really sent the message home of community across to me more than anything I’ve ever done in my life.