Saturday, January 31, 2009

Sixteen-year-old takes Grunge Plunge into Homeless World Sacramento

Thumbnail of photo of E. J. Borg as pictured in the Press-Tribune.
A story in the Roseville Press-Tribune, ten days ago, "Granite Bay resident takes 'the plunge'," tells the story of Jesuit High 11th grader E.J. Borg who spent his sixteenth birthday among the homeless in Sacramento.
Borg's adventure was part of a class project, "devoted to Christian service," where he and four other select students pretended they were homeless. To do this, he and his fellow students spent a lot of time at Loaves & Fishes for an extended weekend.

It began on a Friday afternoon. Borg and the others were given a tour of Quinn Cottages, a transitional-housing facility on A Street in Sacramento, and then spoke with some of the cottage residents.

For the weekend, Borg and his colleagues bedded down in sleeping bags on the grass in locked Friendship Park, under the protection of security guards. At 5:00 in the morning the students were separated and moved out of the park to begin solo experiences of faux-homelessness.

Young Borg likely has a heart of pure gold, and means well, but in his telling of his experience as reported by Susan Belknap in the Press-Tribune, the homeless and Borg, himself, come off looking rather foolish. Loaves & Fishes and its Friendship Park come off as they are, grungy.

Borg says of his meeting with Quinn Cottages' residents only this: "That really opened my mind. Many homeless people are people who have lost their jobs and had bad things happen to them in life.” If merely that was the whole of what he took away from the residents, it is stunning only by being what anyone would easily suppose. Likely, Borg learned much more that didn't make it into Belknap's short article.

Of his breakfast received at Loaves & Fishes, Borg noticed a hair in the pastry and said "I didn’t want to eat anymore." He said of his lunch that it included "mystery meat."

Borg said of his 10am visit to the Friendship Park library that he noticed many homeless asleep throughout the building, and that when he "started reading about the stock market” he "felt a little out of place.” It must have been that Borg happened by when things in the library were atypical. Certainly, you can find some guys sleeping, but seldom are a great many. As for reading, my experience is that there is always a lot of reading going on and that the guys voraciously peruse the Bee, L.A Times and N.Y Times newspapers, including the day's financial sections.

Borg said of Friendship Park, after its early-afternoon closing, "The place was a real mess. There were so many cigarette butts and the whole place was overwhelming filled with trash." This is true, as we Sac'to homeless know. Press-Tribune readers are likely to come away from Belknap's article thinking the grungy condition of the park is due solely to park denizens' sloppy conduct. Truth be known, policies and management in the muddy park contribute mightily to its uncleanliness.

Near the end of the article, Borg is reported saying that his compassion for the plight of the homeless had grown. And that he'd learned, [quoting the article] "what things in life are important and that the bit of discomfort he experienced doesn’t matter."

Disappointingly, the article is wholly superficial in its reporting. It would have been nice, and meaningful, and given Press-Tribune readers something to chew on, had the reporter elicitted a lot more from Borg about what he believed he'd learned. It would also have been nice if the story had connected Borg's experience with Christian service, which was supposedly the focus of Borg's project.

At the Jesuit High webspace, we are told that the Plunge "simulate[s] some of the experiences of homelessness" and is "designed to give students an opportunity to experience poverty 'from the inside.'”

In completing his "service hours," Borg was to have achieved these objectives in Homeless World:
  • allow for direct contact with those who are marginalized in our culture;
  • expose the root causes of marginalization;
  • work to counter the causes of marginalization;
  • enable them to reach out to others in Christian fellowship.

We are also told "In Jesuit schools, learning is expected to move beyond rote knowledge to the development of the more complex learning skills of understanding, application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation. Jesuit education insists that students consider the significance of what they learn and to integrate that meaning into their lives. Reflection helps students make connections between their personal experience of service and the larger issues of social justice.

Here, a pdf document, taken from the high school webspace, about junior-level Christian service, which includes material about The Plunge, which gives us some idea of what students, like E. J., are expected to achieve or reflect on based on their experience.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

so this 16 year old is a fraud?

how is being homeless part of community service? that is just wrong.

February 9, 2009 at 7:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How can this be approved by the school?

How can pretending to be homeless for the night get you into college? There should be further investigation about this. Who were the other people that this young boy was with? He should be ashamed.

February 9, 2009 at 9:41 PM  
Blogger Tom said...

I don't at all think that it is an altogether bad thing for people -- including 16-yr-olds -- to go into Homeless World as faux-homeless to learn what it is like.

I think it can all be an eye-opener for people, giving them an inkling of an idea about the frustrations that exist in this world.

But I am very ambivalent about it all. Truly, only being really homeless such that you have no escape hatch and suffer the long-term drudgeries of Homeless World informs you what it's like. Being homeless for a day, on a lark, to experience it like an exotic vacation teaches one very little.

Also, we Homeless are not zoo creatures. Already at Loaves and Fishes, politicians and prospective volunteers 'tour' Friendship Park looking at us all as if we are orangatangs and giraffes.

When visitors come and look down their noses at us, they are not learning a thing and they are interfering with our lives.

February 11, 2009 at 8:58 AM  

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