I'm not too proud to beg! Actually, I realized I am, which is why I spent most of last Friday hungry. I got to have the unique experience of walking a mile in someone else’s shoes as a participant in a homelessness awareness sleepout.
The challenge was simple: Sleep outside in a cardboard shelter and spend the day begging for food. Sounds easy enough, right?
But what if I told you that you could only beg and take food from someone you didn't know, that you couldn't spend any of your own money or eat anything you already had sitting in your dorm room? What if I told you that the low temperature that night was a chilly 31 degrees?
Wanting to better understand the hardships the homeless go through on a daily basis, I accepted this challenge and gained so much appreciation for the privileges I have in my life.
The hardest part for me was the begging. I’m a very independent person, and I love to eat, so having to rely on a complete stranger to get food was very difficult for me. In fact, only once during the day was I able to pluck up the courage to ask someone if they would be willing to buy me a hamburger, lying to them about having used all the money on my meal card.
The rest of the day was spent searching campus for places that may be offering free food. Lucky for me there was a program where food was served; a real homeless person would not have that advantage.
That night I got very little sleep. It was cold, the ground was hard, and the last few hours of the night were spent counting down the time until I could go to back to my room to really sleep, again another luxury a true homeless person would not have.
They also wouldn't have had an elaborately designed cardboard shelter built by Engineers Without Borders or the chance to run to the campus cafe at midnight to eat after 24 hours of having to beg for food.
So even though my experiences were just a small taste of what being homeless is like, it was enough to make me look at all I have that I just take for granted. And hopefully we raised awareness on our campus.
So many people think homelessness is just an issue in big cities like Chicago, but it’s right here in our communities too.
I learned that here in Valparaiso, an overnight men's shelter serves 350 to 400 men every year. That’s astounding to me!
These people need our help and our support, not our judgment, which seems to happen so often when we encounter them. You will never know their circumstances and their struggles until you've had to walk in their shoes.