Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Plungers in our midst

We were surprized when the chapel at Union Gospel Mission suddenly filled to near-capacity. It was the first day of the month, afterall, and our substance-imbibing friends had gotten their mitts on their "happy checks," and are therefore out cavorting. What are all these people doing being here? my brain asked me.

But as we front-row seaters [and thus early eaters] learned as we watched the late-to-get-in-the-dinner-line folks filing in, aha!, there was Garren [Friendship Park co-manager], followed by a flock of young plungers and a woman that Mike-to-the-left-of-me* IDed as a Jesuit High teacher he recognized.


Plunging is the interesting effort to learn about being homeless by aping being homeless for a day, a few days, a week, or a month. Plungers (noun, plural) are the folks, young or old, rich but seldom poor, who leap from their lives in "situation normal" into the dirty pool of home-not-having out-on-the-streetness.

Four months ago, in a blogpost here, I wrote about Jesuit High plunger E. J. Borg, based on an article in a Roseville newspaper. At the time, it seemed to me what E.J. gained from his one day in the Sac'to homeless milieu was disappointing. But today, I dunno. We must let people learn what they can in their way, or in whatever way, and not worry much about what they think they've learned. Their brain's theirs; if people come away with things misunderstood, we can only hope they'll straighten things out on their own.

This morning, at the cul-de-sac in front of Friendship Park, there were young guys sitting around holding large sleeping bags. The plungers. They looked skittish, out here with all the dangerous-seeming homeless people. I asked one of the plungers if he was a plunger. He didn't know what I meant. I asked if he attended Jesuit High. He said yes.

* as opposed to Mike-to-the-right-of-me and the many, many other Mikes in homeless world. Being given the name Michael/Mike appears to be a statistically very significant factor in being wrought homeless.

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Blogger Ryan Garou said...

Wow, this is the first I'd heard of "plunging". It strikes me as an exceptionally inaccurate and unpredictable way of changing perspective.

If they happen to check in to one of the few really nice shelters in a rich place like Marin, Sonoma or Dade County in Miami, for example, then "homelessness" is an overstated problem to them, and they'll likely come away reinforced in the idea that people out on the streets choose to be there because they are all winos, crackheads and nuts.

On the other end, if their "plunge" was in the TL here in San Francisco ... oh man. They might be emotionally scarred for life.

Either way, they only get to see people in the shelters they can personally access (gender, situation, etc.), and they aren't getting any perspective on homeless families, people living in SROs, vehicle dwellers, etc.

June 3, 2009 at 1:28 PM  
Blogger Tom said...

Hey, Ryan! [Always an honor to hear from you.]

I much agree that plunging is likely to be significantly mis-informational. But [as I should have written], the jesuit high-school plungers are given some background before they take their dive.

Also [for good or ill], they are escorted around some of the time to enable conversation with various, select homeless people to hear of those people's experience.

I think it is a mostly valuable experience for the several [it's not that many] juniors at Jesuit High School who do the plunge. The jesuits, as you may know, are very intent on knowing the truth of situations and contributing to the benefit of the poor.

There are other plunges, like the one in Denver for adults, that bug me quite a bit. They seem like liberals' exotic vacations, where you walk around smelling bad and pay a fancy-hotel rate to do so.

June 3, 2009 at 2:42 PM  
Blogger Tom said...

Yo, Ryan: Here is a blogpost relating to a San Francisco plunge approx a year ago.

June 3, 2009 at 2:47 PM  
Blogger Peta-de-Aztlan said...

Every good decent American citizen who wants to know what life is like for the homeless should take a plunge and be refreshed by connected reality! Consider it a real cultural enrichment experiment! Take the plunge!

June 7, 2009 at 5:56 AM  

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