Alternative Spring Break explores inner city homelessness

(04-03-2012)

By: Mariah Pepe

Adams State’s Newman Club, Associated Students and Faculty, and the Catholic Grant Extension sponsored an Alternative Spring Break trip to San Francisco for thirteen people; participants were given an opportunity to work first hand with the extreme poverty found in the Tenderloin, due to San Francisco’s containment policy, “where the homeless (many of whom are addicts or mentally ill) are relegated to the neighborhood,” said Shirley Atencio.

The group prepared for the trip by volunteering at La Puente and learning about rural and urban homelessness with Georgia Parment, the Community Education Director from La Puente who attended the trip.

They engaged in bonding activities with locals, such as distributing hygiene kits, socks, and hot chocolate, which gave them the chance to spend time with and love the people in the area. They also worked with organizations, such as the San Francisco Food Bank, the Glide soup kitchen, a retirement home for Chinese and Russian immigrants, and Youth with a Mission’s Food Pantry.

“A message we heard from the homeless themselves is that people in this situation feel invisible and worthless. More than handouts, they want to be smiled at, spoken to, seen,” said Atencio.

The highlight of the week, however, took place in San Jose, where the group did an immersion; they dressed and went through the day as homeless – going to soup kitchens, trying to find work and shelter, and most importantly, making friends from a new perspective. “This was my favorite part of the trip. We can work with these people all we want, but we never get to truly understand what they think or hear what they have to say when we are in the position of a volunteer. I made so many friends and heard a lot of hard stories that I needed to hear. They let me into their sphere, even if it was just for that one day,” said Bella Whitten.

“We try to be honest about the fact that as college students and advisors, we are privileged and can never fully understand what it means to live another reality. In our interactions, our intention is to find a common humanity and know that in the end, we are the beneficiaries rather than the benefactors,” said Atencio.

“Although the focus of ASB was heavy, it was balanced by experiencing the beauty of the ocean and the fun of a new city. Overall, the trip was highly successful and I couldn't have asked for a better group of students,” said Atencio.