Reflecting back on my Solidarity Sleepout Experience

By Dale Chak ’19

The Solidarity Sleepout is one of the most significant experiences I have had at Bellarmine. For those of you that don’t know, this overnight retreat hosted by Bellarmine’s Christian Service Program focuses on the plight of the homeless, with the main event being a sleepover on the balcony of Liccardo, exposed to the cold, November air. Though it’s just called the “Solidarity Sleepout” it consists of much more.

The event started before school on Thursday, November 15th. About 30 students packed into the AGAPE lounge in the morning for a briefing. During this meeting, leaders of the Christian Service program handed us trash bags to put our backpacks in. We would have to carry our school work in trash bags for the whole day. Ms. Maloney and Mr. Pinkston explained that the intention of this exercise was to bring to light the demeaning experience of having to carry all of one’s belongings in a bag. I can personally attest to how well this exercise worked. I vividly remember the faces of confusion staring at me as walked across the quad. But I also remember greetings from teachers like Sra. Torna, who thanked me for sacrificing my night to experience the sleepout. These interactions relinquished all my doubts about attending this event.

A couple of hours after school ended, the day continued with the Poverty Simulation. This was an exercise in Liccardo, in which students acted as a family that needed to balance money, food, transportation, school, work, and bills. The greatest thing about this exercise was that it was essentially a game disguised as a lesson. This, combined with the fact that the simulation was made up of people who willingly signed up for the event, created an atmosphere of teamwork and genuine disappointment when families were forced into “foreclosure”, which was equivalent to “game over”. It wasn’t all fun and games though. Through this exercise, I experienced only a fraction of the incredible difficulty of those in poverty, as well as the depressing lack of hope that comes with it. It subverted the common idea that the poor don’t work hard enough when in reality much of the marginalized work even harder than those who are well off.

Afterward, we had a panel with four people: one who worked in a homeless center, one who was a prominent member of San Jose’s infamous homeless encampment often referred to as “The Jungle”, and two who currently live in an apartment. All four shared their diverse experiences being and working with the homeless. Their anecdotes truly expanded my perspective on the homeless experience.

The final event of the night was the sleepout itself. I will never forget the cold floor repeatedly interrupting my sleep, nor the genuine relief I had when I saw the sun rising. As someone who loves to sleep in until noon, that is something I never thought I would say. More than any words or stories, the action of trying to sleep helped me understand the circumstances of the homeless. What truly cemented that idea was my performance in class the next day. Tired, groggy, unable to focus, I understood the vicious cycle of poverty in education. Falling asleep during one of Dr. Dalton’s lectures is a sin I will never forgive myself for. As I walked through the halls of Lokey, hearing students panic over WHAP tests and Calculus quizzes, I gained a sense of perspective. I realized the absolute privilege I had, worrying about getting to the lunch line in time rather than needing to worry where I’ll sleep for the night. This sense of perspective continues to permeate my life today, one whole year after spending a single night on Liccardo’s balcony.

I implore any student who thinks they might be interested to sacrifice a single night on Liccardo’s Balcony. It might change your life. Sign up next year on x2vol before all the slots are taken.