Danica eisman (far left) and fellow spu students adjusting to life on the streets. Photo by Erika Schultz, The Seattle Times
The Lyrics of a Sad Song
Seattle Pacific University freshman Danica Eisman will never look at a "Will Work for Food" cardboard sign the same way again. During Christmas Break, Eisman and 17 SPU students chose to participate in Urban Plunge, a five-day immersion experience designed to give students a real-life taste of what it's like to be homeless.
Armed with nothing more than a few bus passes, a list of homeless shelters, and $2.50 (that's less than a Starbucks vanilla latte, people!), they took to the cold, wet streets of Seattle and lived the way the homeless do. They got dirty and grumpy and may have lost a little weight. But most of all, they gained a new perspective — a compassion not soon to be forgotten. Here is Eisman's story:
I'm not really sure why Lyric cared so much about us. Maybe it was for the same reason we instinctively cared about her — insatiable curiosity — and pity. She pitied us because we were 18 and out on the unforgiving streets. We pitied her because we now knew what it was like to be cold, wet, hungry, and alone, and unlike us, after five days, she would still be there.
Lyric was slightly underweight with disheveled hair and baggy clothes. She smelled of alcohol and cigarettes. But her kindness struck me. She took us for homeless and we never told her otherwise, mostly because we feared if she knew the truth she would stop being honest with us.
I know now that homeless people are not all irresponsible or lazy or alcoholics. She helped me see that many are genuinely disabled and truly hungry, some really are veterans, and many are working to find a way off the streets. Mostly I learned that no one chooses to be homeless. Lyric didn't.
It was just one or two bad choices that snowballed, and Lyric found herself at the Seattle Center, sleeping in the bushes behind the family restrooms. She told us about the unwanted pregnancy and the unexpected miscarriage that made her so desperate. She told us about the man who tried to help her, but couldn't. She told us about her three minimum-wage jobs. But what was most striking was how Lyric spoke about these truths, her homelessness, as if she couldn't believe she was talking about herself.
It was five days of my life. I ate day-old bread from a wet garbage bag, simply grateful for something to eat. I slept on the sidewalk in front of the Experience Music Project. These things are burned into my conscience. But more memorable was Lyric — it was she who changed me. She was honest and open and nonjudgmental. She was intelligent and creative and optimistic. In seeing a little piece of Lyric, I glimpsed a vision of what God intends for us all: to see him in all creation and to view those who are different than us as having something remarkable to teach us.
By Danica Eisman