Engaging homelessness through personal experience

Students gather to talk about Urban Plunge and Seattle’s homelessness crisis

Courtesy of Caenisha Warren
Students who have done the “Urban Plunge” experience share their stories.

To many students at Seattle Pacific University, being a part of Urban Involvement’s Urban Plunge has given them a much more realistic outlook on homelessness.

This was especially the case for first-year physiology major Samuel Black who got involved in Urban Plunge in December of 2016.

“We were only out for five days, so [our clothing] did not really show signs of wear,” Black said. “No one ever really asked us to leave or treated us differently.”

However, he remembered a moment where he came face to face with a hard reality of homelessness.  

“I was sitting outside of the Target downtown … and it was completely different,” he said. “Probably 150 people walked by me, on the sidewalk that I was on, and two people acknowledged me. Most people wouldn’t look at me, or would look through me.”

On May 1, Urban Involvement organized a panel titled “Urban Plunge: Unplugged.” Students interested in Urban Plunge were able to enter in conversation with past participants.

Urban Plunge is a five-day homelessness emergence program through Urban Involvement at SPU.  During these five days, participants are asked to go out in the streets to live as if they were homeless.  They are required to move around various Seattle locations including Downtown, Ballard and University District.

According to Karen Snedker, Associate Professor of Sociology and Co-Chair of the President’s Committee on Engaging Homelessness, SPU cares about engaging homelessness.

“It is a part of the mission and DNA of who we are as a Christian liberal arts university,” she said.

Snedker assisted members of Urban Involvement in planning the event sitting on the committee that is working to support student engagement in homelessness in Seattle.

Before the actual panelists were brought up to speak, there was a time for students who were interested in Urban Plunge to go to five different tables and ask past participants any specific questions about the experience.

The event continued with an open panel, where audience members were able to ask questions to the four panelists: Rick Reynolds, Karen Snedker, Anya Annear and Peter Choi.  

Reynolds serves as the Executive Director of Operation Nightwatch. Both Annear and Choi are SPU students and serve as staff reporters for The Falcon.

One audience member asked the panel a question related to the people of color within the homeless community.

“[People of color] are not being equally represented when they are housed,” Reynolds replied. “We have this pool of homeless people who are, disproportionately, people of color, and yet white people are moving more quickly into housing. It is injustice.”

Choi, a senior journalism student from Korea who works for the Falcon as a multimedia reported, talked about how Urban Plunge led him to change his minor from political science to sociology.

Choi’s experience with Urban Plunge forced him to ask questions like, “As an international student, what should I do? As a person of color, what should I do?”

Choi also voiced that one of his initial and prominent concerns going into Urban Plunge was how he would appear to his Korean family.  

“[My mom] did not understand why I did this,” he said. “I remember her saying, ‘You don’t have to do this. It’s not your job to figure this out.’”

Third-year communication major Anya Annear recalled that being on the streets forced her into a state of self-preservation.

To her, “It was draining mentally and physically. You start to understand when you see the homeless people who don’t want to talk to people … You start to become closed-minded and not invest in others.”

Black asked the closing question, “Why should you do Urban Plunge?”

Snedker replied that the experience changes how you experience homelessness.

“You can change the discourses around how we talk about homelessness,” she said. “You can be change agents to the ways in which society responds to this problem.”


This article was posted in the section News.

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