Merit of Urban Plunge explored

Each winter and spring break, students participating in Urban Plunge set out on the streets of Seattle for five days with a little bit of cash, three bus tickets and the clothes on their backs. During these five days, they put themselves in the shoes of the homeless.

Sophomore Scott Jackson, Urban Plunge coordinator, said the goals of the program are for students to interact with people they normally wouldn’t come into contact with, to learn a bit about what it is like to be homeless, and to gain a new perspective on homelessness.

Sophomore Tucker Rogers and freshman Samuel Dahlin both participated in Urban Plunge over winter break and spoke of their experiences at a homelessness forum on Thursday.

Rogers said he was apprehensive before starting the program because he lacked prior interaction with the homeless population.

“I was expecting to be pretty awkward,” he said. “It turned out to be no different than being a new student — you have to learn how to fit in.”

Rogers said his group interacted with a wide range of people, including one man who was high on crack and another who had been living on the street for 35 years.

“As a student, I don’t really have the time to stop and talk with homeless people about life,” he said. “In Urban Plunge, we had a lot of time to interact with people.”

At the same time, Rogers realized how lonely living on the streets could be.

“There were long intervals of silence while hundreds of people were walking past us,” Rogers said. “At the very least, people could stop and say ‘hi’ — it can be more valuable than giving money and can make a huge difference.”

Residents of Tent City 3 who were panelists at the forum said they benefited from hearing about students’ experiences with Urban Plunge.

“I was a bit skeptical [of Urban Plunge] at first, but you actually got it,” said Tracy Arant, a resident of Tent City 3. “It’s not just about giving money. On the worst day of your life, someone stopping to say ‘hi’ can make a huge difference.”

Tiffany Rand, another Tent City 3 resident, agreed with Arant.

“When I first became homeless, I was waiting to see the people who cared,” Rand said. “We’re human too; we just need help.”

While the panel of Tent City 3 residents at the forum generally agreed that students in the Urban Plunge program experienced much of what it is like to live on the streets, there were some aspects of homelessness that students did not endure.

Arant said finding shelter for the night is a problem common to homeless people but students in the Urban Plunge program are guaranteed shelter every night at a church.

“You don’t realize what kind of fear it instills in you not knowing if you will have a place to sleep that night,” Arant said.

Tony Rinehart, another of the Tent City 3 resident panelists, said students also don’t experience difficulty with service providers in receiving health care, housing and other services.

Additionally, the residents agreed that a major challenge homeless people face is keeping track of their belongings.

“You can’t set your stuff down and leave it, or it will be gone when you get back,” Arant said.

She suggested that in the future, Urban Plunge students pack only what they can fit into a backpack, which would give them greater understanding of this challenge.

Student panelists agreed that Urban Plunge would never be able to give them a fully authentic experience.

“We’re never going to fully understand what it’s like to be truly homeless,” Jackson said. “Urban Plunge is about getting a little bit of the experience to change our perspective.”

However, Arant said the program’s shortfalls are not necessarily a bad thing.

“I hope you never have to experience what it’s like to be truly homeless,” Arant said. “Always remember that you could be us. People don’t see how close they are to becoming homeless — I didn’t until it happened.”

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Title: Merit of Urban Plunge explored | Author: Amber Ackerson | Section: News | Published Date: 2012-03-07 | Internal ID: 8103