This is Margot Howard, the staff resource person on the DC Catalyst trip.
At 8am on Sunday the students began the 48 hour Homeless Challenge through the National Coalition for the Homeless. It is sure to be one of the defining moments of the Catalyst DC experience. We were happy to hear that it is much warmer this week than the group had last year, but it is still certainly a huge challenge that will give them an insight into a situation most have never had to face. It is worth mentioning that we realize that this in no way means that any of us will understand what it is truly like to be homeless. The mental assurance of a hot shower in 30 hours or knowing that one can quit at any time are luxuries that those facing homessness don't have.
They were given all of the resources that any person experiencing homelessness would receive through The Coalition: a map, a list of places they can get food, and blankets. They work in pairs through the day, hauling disaster blankets in large garbage bags. At night they meet in groups of four, each with a guide from The Coalition. The guides are all currently or formerly homeless. The guide gives them some tips on where they can dumpster dive for cardboard to sleep on, brings them to their favorite spot to sleep, and teaches them how to make the most out of the supplies they have. They finish off the evening by hearing their guides story. Everyone tries their best to get some much needed sleep while the guide stays awake and watches over them.
I met up with them this morning to check in and they were all doing as well as one can in this situation. Many had tried pan-handling (Sandy got a whole $9!). Many tried to go into various businesses to warm up, only to be asked to leave. Some visited some religious organizations and were welcomed with open arms. Be sure the check back tomorrow and Wednesday for personal posts about their experiences.
I will be meeting up with the group tonight to be sure everyone is able to stick it through the last 12 hours. I can't tell you the bravery and determination that this experience takes. I am very proud of their strength and commitment and am looking forward to hearing all that they have learned.
Tomorrow morning we will meet at The Coalition to start processing the experience. They then will return to the hostel, take a much needed shower, and then we are off to begin the service portion of the experience.