"Homeless" for 36 hours
Senior year at Stanford, I was asked to do some deep needfinding and walk in somebody else's shoes- as literally as possible. My partner and I wanted to push the assignment as far as possible, and decided to take a one way ride on the CalTrain to San Francisco with nothing but our sleeping bag and notebook.
We slept in Golden Gate Park, panhandled, and talked to a wide range homeless people during these 36 hours. Admittedly, our time on the "streets" was not enough to build as much empathy as we would have liked, but what we did experience was powerful, poignant, and will stay with us forever. I could go on forever with the stories our adventure spawned, but I will share the one that we utilized in our project.
I first encountered Michael underneath an overpass in SOMA. We had grown accustomed to homeless gathering cans, but Michael was picking up trash! I walked over and introduced myself to Michael and we shook hands- my skin bare, his hand protected by a black frayed lifting glove that had seen better days.
When asked why he was picking up garbage, Michael responded: "This is my home. I take pride in my home." Michael and his buddy Robert lived on the raised base of the overpass structural column, their cardboard beds standing in stark contrast to the dealership parking lot full of expensive, shiny cars located right next to their house. Michael then told me a bit of his life, facets of what homeless life was like, etc. I then gave my thanks for his time, and reached out for the goodbye handshake.
Michael responded in kind, reaching out with his gloved hand; however, mid motion he stopped, looked at his, pulled it back, removed his glove, then shook my hand- bare skin against bare skin.