Cleveland Urban Plunge allows students to be homeless for a weekend

Davy Vargo

When she was 17 years old, Theresa Medrano was lying on the hard floor of an apartment hallway, covered with her coat, trying to sleep.

After a domestic violence incident that left her voiceless for two weeks, Medrano joined the roughly 4,000 homeless people in Cleveland every night.

“I wanted to go to prom and do all this stuff, and then here I was trying to figure out how I was going to make a living,” Medrano said.

By allowing Kent State students to experience what Medrano faced, the Cleveland Urban Plunge event gives students a weekend taste of what it is like to be homeless.

The Cleveland Urban Plunge works with the Catholic Workers Movement, an organization geared toward relieving poverty, provide hot meals for the homeless, to understand their situations and tour the city to better understand the situation of those who are homeless and impoverished.

Alexandra Ulbricht, outreach program officer for Kent State’s Office of Experiential Education and Civic Engagement, said students will spend the weekend of Oct. 7 sleeping on the floor of the Catholic Workers storefront, an empty building. When each morning comes, the building will come alive.

“When it opens for lunch time or breakfast time, we interact with the people that come, we serve them the meal, we do dishes, and we hang out and become part of that community,” Ulbricht, “so it’s a really great opportunity to hear their stories.”

During the weekend, 12 to 14 students will hear from different organizations who are invested in helping the poor, often from various ethnic communities, she said.

Ulbricht will also be going along for the weekend. She believes it is beneficial for students to see what life is like for different people.

“A lot of the people who come in to have the meal at the Catholic Workers storefront are just like you and I,” she said. “We don’t want to ever define these individuals by their socio-economic status. They are people who have had interesting lives. They are human beings. And they are people who we want to interact with, and to hang out with, and to learn from.”

Students will shop together and will eat at poverty level, which is $6 a day. Ulbricht said the event is a great way to meet friends and experience the homeless life together.

Medrano, who is now living in her apartment and attending Kent State — thanks to the generosity of two philanthropists — agrees that the Cleveland Urban Plunge is a worthwhile way to spend your weekend.

“I think anyone that’s even having the thought of considering going to the Cleveland Urban Plunge should definitely do it,” the senior human development and family studies major said. “They can see what it’s like to be homeless and realize everybody lives different lives — you have to take that into consideration when you meet with people.

“It’s depressing but I think it’s an eye-opening experience, a great experience, for students to learn about what it’s like to not have the essentials in life.”

Medrano herself isn’t quite ready to attend an event that would throw her back into the homeless life.

“I’m not sure I’m emotionally ready for it yet,” she said. “Going back and seeing others going through it would break my heart.”

Medrano went on to explain one of the specific ways she was helped out of her situation. A local church gave her food and clothes and helped her on her way.

“They were very non-judgmental toward me, and I think that’s what kept me going,” Medrano said. “I wouldn’t have had nearly as much determination as I did if it wasn’t for their help and them telling me to keep pressing on.”

To have volunteers who are encouraging and helping the homeless makes a huge difference, Medrano said. She also identified what, in her opinion, is the main problem for homeless people: transportation.

Not having a car made it very difficult for her to make it to her job. Recently, the 23-year-old bought a car after teaching herself to drive in just two weeks.

“Now being older, I feel more sympathetic towards homeless people because of the issue of finding transportation when you’re trying to work a job,” Medrano said. “There are homeless people out there that are lazy, but I know people that are trying to get jobs, and they just can’t.”

Medrano thinks of herself as a much more compassionate person now because of her experience. She said it made her see people as they really are: humans.

“If I could go back to my senior year, I would do it all again because I feel those experiences, both horrible and great, made me into the person that I am today,” Medrano said.

Registration for the Cleveland Urban Plunge closes Monday, Oct. 3.

Davy Vargo is the student life reporter, contact her at [email protected].