For the past 3o years, Mission Waco has been staging poverty simulations designed to show participants what it is like to be homeless and to increase empathy for the poor. Thousands of students, church group, civic leaders and regular folks have gone through – with most emerging changed by the experience. In the last weekend of January, a bitterly cold weekend in Waco, I experienced the poverty simulation with a group of students from Humble ISD.
By the end of the weekend, we were ragged and tired and sore – but the students had experienced moments and met people they would never forget. The people who were no longer the faceless, nameless “homeless.” But Joe P., Chad, Leroy, James, Bob. People, one student said, “who are worth talking to.”
Here is the story I did for the Houston Chronicle about the experience along with a gallery of photos I took:
Weekend changes students’ attitude
By Monica Rhor | February 21, 2014
WACO – The frigid wind announced itself as a low, hoarse howl, a freight train rumbling toward the bodies huddled on concrete and frozen grass. It lashed through flimsy blankets and sleeping bags, leaving the kids from Atascocita, Summer Creek and Kingwood groaning. Some whimpered in their sleep. Others squeezed three and four to a bag in a futile attempt to stay warm.
As the thermometer dipped below freezing, and the wind whipping past at 25 mph made the night air even icier, Lourdes Sanchez got angry. She yearned for her warm bed nearly 200 miles away.
She asked herself: Why did I come here? Why am I putting myself through this?
Then, the high school senior remembered.
She and her classmates were here for a “poverty simulation” weekend, designed to plunge participants into the shoes of the poor and the homeless, forcing them to experience firsthand what it feels like to be deprived of possessions and power.
“This is actually life for many people who don’t have the luxury of being cold with a friend or a blanket,” she thought. “For them, it’s not just one night. I don’t have the right to complain.”
Just 36 hours earlier, Lourdes and 40 other Humble ISD students left Atascocita High School carrying Vera Bradley quilted totes and overnight bags loaded with clothes and makeup and toiletries. They were tethered to iPhones and iPads and earbuds. One student, who is vegan, carted a stash of tortilla chips, guacamole, nuts and fruit salad from Whole Foods.
But soon after setting foot inside Mission Waco, they were asked to hand over their money, jewelry and provisions.
They exchanged their own clothes for thrift shop outfits that were too big or too small, or in some cases, just plain ridiculous. Like Jonathan Burton’s blue Hawk Security Systems shirt paired with baggy checked pants. Or Alexis Nunes’ mismatched brown shoes. Or Dalton Cruz’s explosion of clashing plaids. Or Amy Baker’s combo of “World’s Greatest Dad” T-shirt and slacks that dragged several inches below the heels of her pink cloth slip-ons.
From Friday night to Sunday afternoon, they would go without. Without money. Without shelter. Without hot water.
To read the rest of the article and view the photo gallery, click here.
Go here to see more photos.