SIMPSONVILLE—Youth at St. Mary Magdalene Church recently received a crash course in what it’s like to be homeless.
Twenty-eight middle and high school students and parents from the church spent a weekend outside Sept. 21-23, sleeping in cardboard boxes on the ground and relying only on donated supplies for food and hygiene.
Participants arrived on Friday afternoon to begin the event with only the clothes on their backs. They weren’t allowed to bring sleeping bags, personal hygiene items or anything else. Parents could join the activity or visit with their children, but weren’t allowed to bring them supplies.
The parish youth already participate in an annual 30-hour fast to empathize with the hungry, and this project was meant to give them an idea of what it’s like to be homeless and fending for themselves on the streets, said youth leader Joe Maggio.
They also collected blankets, clothing, shoes, bottled water, non-perishable food and hygiene items for homeless programs, including United Ministries, Safe Harbor and God’s Pantry.
Basic physical needs weren’t the only concern. The youth also had to come up with ways to entertain themselves, a skill that’s not often required in a busy, technology-driven world.
There were a few guest speakers during the weekend, but the rest of the time, they sang, talked with each other, or played games.
“It was a great bonding time, to be quite honest, because one of the things they found out is being homeless can be very boring,” Maggio said. “There was no technology, no diversions. It was a real chance to hang out together and really talk to people and get to know them, because there was none of the rush-rush of normal daily life.”
The daytime hours were sunny and comfortable, but at night temperatures dropped into the 50s. They learned just how cold that can feel without the protection of four walls and a roof.
“At night I felt like I almost froze,” said Abby Frazier, 17. “I had two blankets and a yoga mat to sleep on, and I was freezing. I didn’t think it would get that cold at night. I totally sympathize now with what it must be like for people who have to sleep outside. It really opened my eyes to how they have to live to survive.”
Angel Vigil joined her two sons Isaac, 10, and Weston, 13, for some eye-opening lessons.
“Going without was an interesting experience,” she said. “We only ate if people brought food, drank if they brought water. You didn’t know where you were going to get things or if anyone was going to take care of you.”
Her kids learned what it was like to not brush their teeth or take a shower.
“Homelessness is out there and people don’t really talk about this, and events like this can help start the conversation,” she said.