For the evening, we had one simple task. Having been assigned a specified square in D.C., we were supposed to discover for ourselves the faces and challenges of being homeless for one very chilly evening. To do this we were given only a few supplies: a bus ticket, two dollars each, a map of our area, and the instructions to have a meal with someone and a conversation about homelessness in the city, and somehow get them a pair of socks. With the correct attitude, this seemed easy enough to my group. What we learned in the process of our endeavors is hopefully something that will stick with us for the rest of our lives.
We started out with an idea. We needed to earn more money somehow. While contemplating our options, we scoped out Dupont Circle to see what was around to eat and who our dinner guest might be. After determining that we had pretty limited options in dining on six dollars, we figured talking to some people about the issues at hand might help us out. We spoke with a woman representing a newspaper about homelessness, and she explained to us that the shelters present in the Dupont Circle area were dirty, the food was not good, and the people weren’t really treated like people. Devastated to hear about her one bad experience, we left feeling a little more sorry for the people we were supposed to be servicing during the evening. Quickly, however, this notion was reversed by an old man who had approached us the next block up. He told us that many of the panhandlers on the streets were faking homelessness, and that in reality pretending was just an easy way for them to get money. We thanked him for his insight, he gave us his blessing, and we were on our way, bitterly conflicted that we may wind up helping the wrong person.
Still, our main concern was being able to afford food to share with the right person, and so our hunt for more spending money ensued. After receiving a free pair of socks from a very kind man who was selling them on the street, and buying a newspaper for a dollar from the first woman we spoke to, we had five dollars to our name, which was not very promising for a meal for four. Kait and I got our courage up to approach two generous young boys on the sidewalk. We explained to them our issue, and with a little haggling they forfeited another six dollars. Boy, were we lucky that people were so kind! We had doubled our budget!
As there were no McDonalds and no real grocery stores in the area, we settled for what we thought would be the best bet for getting a good hot meal for under $11: Subway. Two $5 foot long hot meatball subs cut into two pieces each gave us four sandwiches, and with tax, it had cost us exactly $11! The prior coincidences in the day led us to believe that everything had to have happened to us exactly this way for a reason.
So, here we were, completely ready to start our mission, when we walk out of Subway and find that we cannot find any one in need of our meal. After much searching, we finally came to a man sleeping on the steps of a bank, and offered him our sandwich. He was grateful, but declined our request to sit down to eat with him. I was a little disappointed, but figured it was okay since we were the ones who had woken him up from sleeping.
Still, the whole bus ride back to our meeting place I had contemplated what had happened in the past couple of hours. At first, I thought we had failed. Then, upon further thought, I realized that the actual meal part if the trip was not the task, but a tool. Sure, we hadn’t exactly had a conversation with the man sleeping at the bank, but in order to offer him a sandwich, we had encountered several different people who had taught us more about homelessness in D.C., exactly what we were meant to do in the first place. We did not have the satisfaction watching the man eat, but instead we learned a lot about life. The newspaper woman taught us that people are people, and no matter what happens to them in life, they should be treated as such. The man who stopped us on the corner explained that things may not always be as they seem to be. This, I know, can go both ways. Someone who may not seem to be struggling could be bearing an enormous pain inside; then again, those how seem to be in need may be getting along just fine. Finally, the two boys and the street vendor showed that human kindness can go a long way. Many people are willing to give of themselves when asked, with no prior knowledge of a situation or the people in them.
At first I had thought that when I heard about the other group’s experiences, I might be a little jealous that they got more out of their day than we did. Thinking about all that I had discovered, though, I knew my group’s experience was perfect. The guy on the street corner had given us his blessing, and I knew it had carried through during our entire journey. Whatever it was that was keeping an eye on us at Dupont Circle today had helped us achieve our goal, and forced us to really understand the more about ourselves and our lives.