Sleeping in the Dark: Being Homeless for a Night

At 2:30 AM, a group of 10 Bells shuffled quietly across the Liccardo balcony. The exhausted boys started to slip into their sleeping bags, trying not to disturb their classmates who were already sleeping in the darkness, albeit uncomfortably. A few students poked their heads out of their REI blankets not because of the noise, but because of the cold. The wind gained momentum and the rain stopped, but the snore of that one senior next to me was relentless. I, while shivering, gazed from the balcony the small glow in the Student Life Center. I wanted to approach the light because it indicated a warm place. I was, however, too tired to move, and I let the night take me away for four hours of dreary sleep.

On Thursday October 16th, 35 Bellarmine brothers and I stayed at school from 8PM to Friday 8AM to be in solidarity with the people around the world who couldn’t afford a roof over their heads. The solidarity experience was tremendously difficult and sobering. I recall entering the Leontyne chapel with my fellow classmates to learn more about homelessness directly from those who had experienced living in the streets firsthand. I remember Robert, a well-to-do businessman who even earned a 200K salary at one point in his manufacturing career, discuss how his life unraveled very quickly. Robert spoke about the ensuing loss of his wife, custody of his children and his dignity. He discussed about how it was difficult to find employment because there wasn’t a shower he could use or hardly anyone willing to lend him a mirror so when he showed up for work, he was given dirty looks by everyone. Then, we heard from another speaker who discussed about how she was extorted and taken advantage in the sex industry of Hollywood. I distinctly remember the words of Robert, Sylvia and others because they spoke not with remorse or with self-pity, but rather because they delivered their message to us with conviction. They were not afraid to divulge to us that homelessness was part of their identity. In fact, our panelists acknowledged that the challenges of homelessness brought them newfound maturity and a greater understanding of society’s flaws.

Robert’s story stuck with me all the way to our bus ride. At 10AM, Mr. Pinkston led me and ten other Bells along with Obi to the bus station stop on the Alameda. A VTA bus slowed down on our stop and we piled in silently. Unsurprisingly, there were passengers on the bus, but these customers had no destination in mind. They were on the bus to seek warmth and as Robert put it the following morning, they needed the “security that the light provides.”

As we rode the 22 VTA Bus Line (a.k.a Hotel Double Deuce), we noticed passengers lumber into empty seats, carrying several grocery bags with a tattered suitcase. I wondered if the white plastic “suitcases” were all that they held to their name. Most of the passengers had their eyes pointed downwards and the rest had their eyes closed. A man sitting next to me bent down to pick up a bottle on the ground and then stuffed it into one of his Adidas pant pockets.

When we arrived to Palo Alto, the bus kicked our group off alongside the other passengers of the 22 line waited under the overheads sheltering us from the rain. I noticed that we were right behind the Caltrain platform that I go to every morning in order to travel to school. It was ironic to see the tech businesses at midnight in downtown using their priceless energy bill to preserve the pristine look of their logo on the buildings at night – money that could have been used for greater purposes.

The journey on the 22 line was a repetition. We walked back to Bellarmine at 2:15 AM. Our feet were unresponsive after standing on the last bus for 40 minutes because the bus was crowded with other passengers who needed it more than we did. I remember trudging back to the balcony, wondering to myself how the Liccardo exterior would look different in the afternoon…when students rush to the cafeteria and the occasional Bell student drops ketchups or a few curly fries on deck and never bothers to clean them up. It made me sad. And I felt even more distressed knowing that I myself was one of those inattentive individuals.

In this month of giving thanks, say thank you to your parents. They give you an opportunity to attend a school that cares for you. They provide you a warm bed and hot food after you come back from sports, a robotics tournament or a speech and debate round. Pick up the food you dropped and think about the clothes you throw away because they no longer look “fashionable.” There are always those out there who have none of what you and I can afford.