Hours after finishing up final exams, a group of Santa Clara University students (myself included) and a faculty mentor hopped on the Caltrain to spend a week living in the Tenderloin with Faithful Fools. As students at a Jesuit university, a fundamental question underlying our education is the following — how can we use our training and what we’ve learned to help others struggling under injustices? Guided by Faithful Fools, we began to figure out concrete answers to that question as we were bearing witness to the unjust suffering faced by those with unstable housing living in the Tenderloin.
Our week began with a Street Retreat, a powerful introduction to the neighborhood that was challenging and prompted many observations and questions that we carried with us throughout the week (e.g. specific themes including trauma and harm reduction). Our group participated in many activities with Faithful Fools that really engaged us in their community. We met and socialized with folks at the Holiday Party who we saw later on at other Faithful Fools events and shouted hellos as we were walking around the streets during the week. This made the community feel concentrated and connected, and expanded my understanding of the power communities hold within their relationships, resources, and presence with one another. Our immersion experience culminated with our participation in the memorial for those who died on the streets, which was an exceptionally moving ceremony full of powerful singing and reflection on all we had learned, seen, and felt throughout the week.
The immersion was a profound experience for us all, one we recognize as the starting point – initiating our future work mitigating social injustices that prevent people with unstable housing from fully living and having their human rights and dignity met. Upon hearing the difficult personal stories from members of the community, we feel called to action to investigate the realities in our own neighborhoods as well as remain connected with the San Francisco community. Returning to Santa Clara University, we will continue to dismantle what appears to keep us separated and remember how we discovered on the streets of the Tenderloin our common humanity.