The sophomore class took part in the Catholic Charities INSIGHTS Immersion Experience over several days last week, with different groups going each day. The students visit various social service agencies in Louisville in order to learn more about poverty and the call to social justice. Visiting homeless shelters and a soup kitchen as well as taking part in a simulation of being a single parent searching for housing had an impact on the students. Here are the reflections of three students:
Sophomore Brigid Welch
“I had the opportunity to go on a retreat along with my classmates where we got to experience the true crisis of homelessness. Being homeless isn’t something that’s only reserved for those living in the largest cities. Many people all over the United States are suffering under the poverty line, and I learned that upwards of 10,000 people are without homes in Louisville alone. The experience was eye opening, to say the least.
“We spent our day in somewhat of a simulation, going through the motions of a family who had just been evicted from their apartment. Participating in the simulation was one thing, but truly getting to listen to the stories of the people was enough to bring me to tears. One of the most memorable things was when we visited the soup kitchen, and I saw a newborn baby in a mother’s arms. It’s one thing to imagine what these people go through, but to truly experience and understand their everyday lives is completely different.
“A person that really left a mark on me was Clarence, a homeless man that we met at St. John’s Men’s Shelter. He was successful and living a good life, with three businesses and a family. However, he went bankrupt and lost everything. Even during this low time during his life, he managed to stay positive and always look for the silver lining. I could never imagine what he has gone through and how he continues to have such a positive attitude. It was truly inspirational seeing someone carry himself with such pride and happiness after everything he had was taken from him.
Towards the end of his talk, Clarence said something that will stay with me for the rest of my life. He said “Knowledge is only one step on the ladder, but understanding is a whole other ladder.” This retreat really opened my eyes to all the different aspects of being homeless. I now have a deeper understanding of the daily struggles that people in poverty experience.”
Sophomore Logan Applewhite
“The Sophomore Retreat focused on the aspects of social justice in our own community around the outskirts of downtown Louisville. Instead of looking at the poor and homeless in countries thousands of miles away, this retreat was meant to show that poverty is relevant, realistic, and very, very close to us. To focus on how hard it is to find a place to sleep and eat, especially with children, we were asked to put ourselves in the shoes of a single mother with three children. Several phone calls and trips to potential sleeping/resting centers showcased how difficult it is to find anywhere to sleep without waiting years. This retreat showcased the problems many people in our community face daily in a down-to-earth and realistic way.
“The first activity set the mood for the day. We were asked to imagine ourselves as a single parent with children ages 9, 7, and 6 months who had just been evicted from our apartment. We needed to find a place to stay for the night. First, we called affordable housing run by the government, which ended with discovery of a three-to-five year waiting list. Then we called Section 8, a government agency that subsidizes rent. The wait list is five-to-seven years. Government programs to help the homeless are a complete dead end in emergency situations.
“After trying government agencies, we went to Catholic Charities agencies. These agencies work tirelessly to help the homeless not just by providing them a temporary place to sleep but also a way to get back on their feet with dignity. However, getting back on their feet takes time. Many of them hold jobs for months ‘til they can get an apartment. Getting help, a place to sleep, and somewhere to go to is essential to having a chance of getting their life back together. Some of the only places to get this kind of help are charities like St. Vincent de Paul.
“Several people I met didn’t have much in this world, but they didn’t focus on that. They took every day as it came and enjoyed the little things like a simple meal. They lived one day at a time simply because that was the only way. It was eye opening to realize that Providence students, myself included, worry and stress over a test while these people don’t really stress about how little food they have to eat or where they’re going to sleep that night. Sophomore Retreat showcased how good my fellow students and I have it.”
Sophomore Alex Perkinson
“On our Sophomore Retreat, my class visited many social services and outreach ministries in the Louisville area. We were given the scenario of being a homeless single parent with three children, and we had to travel by bus and on foot to apartments that could possibly take us in. The retreat lasted all day and we were constantly talking to new people about our situation. It was tough knowing that our situation was a fantasy while thousands of real people go through those hardships every day.
“The part I enjoyed most about the retreat was talking to the homeless people at the soup kitchen we visited. Instead of acting sad about their situation, they seemed grateful just to be alive and to share their day with us. The most challenging part of the retreat was constantly walking and barely sitting down. It was a reminder that we had to keep moving because we needed a place to stay. It was hard to imagine what it’s like to always be walking in search of the next meal and/or money to make it to the next day.
Our guide was very informative about what to do if you’re homeless and how to approach hotlines about your situation. Also, a guest speaker named Lenny was very inspirational because he had just left the streets and moved into an apartment. Even though his rent per month increased and basically put him at zero dollars in the bank, it didn’t seem to faze him. He was very straightforward about his harsh experiences and how he continues to make the best of what he has.
“I was very humbled by this experience. Not only does it make me realize how blessed we are at Providence, but how important it is to plan your future and be smart about the decisions you make every day. I learned that waiting lines for low-rent apartments can be up to about seven years and that thousands of people can be queued at a single time. I was unaware of how big the homeless problem is in Louisville and how it continues to become worse. In conclusion, the retreat opened my eyes to the harsh lifestyle that homeless people go through.”