Taking the Urban Plunge
Letter to the Editor | Tuesday, October 28, 2014
My Urban Plunge experience at the Father McKenna Center in Washington D.C., was one I never expected and certainly one that I will never forget.
Having grown up in the suburbs of D.C. all of my life, I was unaware of the extent of urban poverty that existed just miles away. I knew there were poor individuals living in certain parts of the city, but I had never known what those conditions entailed or all of the obstacles those individuals had to overcome on a daily basis regarding things that many people take for granted. Urban Plunge broadened my perspective of a place I thought I knew well; it exposed me to the vicious cycle of urban poverty that dominates the lives of too many.
During my immersion at the men’s homeless shelter, I spent my time preparing and serving meals to the men, doing handiwork around the shelter and attending meetings to learn more about the social, economic and political challenges that perpetuate poverty. I learned much in such a short amount of time and was truly immersed in the setting as we slept on church pews, served food and gathered for warmth during the polar vortex. On the last day of the plunge, my group and I really made an effort to talk with the men at the shelter and hear more about their stories; this was the highlight of my experience.
One man explained how he accepted a life in poverty so that he could afford for his daughter to attend a private university and receive a top-notch education. He beamed as he spoke of his two-year-old grandson whom he had not seen since he was an infant in hopes of preventing the child from being exposed to his unpleasant lifestyle. Many men also spoke of the prevalent mental health issues and numerous other challenges that make it seem impossible to get off of the streets and into a stable home. I remember hearing one story about a mother who had earned enough qualifications to receive a well-paying job outside of the city but could not afford to send her kids to daycare while she worked, ultimately forcing her to resort to a much lower-paying, unsteady job.
Too many people assume that homeless individuals are lazy and unwilling to put in the effort to make a change, but that is not the case. Sometimes there are circumstances out of their control that force them to be stuck in poverty. Through Urban Plunge, I was able to become much more aware of these sorts of challenges, and my broadened viewpoint helps me to see the world in a new light. I encourage my peers to take advantage of this opportunity and learn more about the lives of others.
The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.