By Chris O’Brien
Though simulations, listening to talks, and exercises will never allow us to truly understand the lives of homeless, immigrants, or sexually exploited women, we were immersed in a few different activities during orientation week to help us at least begin to comprehend what these people’s everyday lives look like.
On Wednesday night we spent the night on the street sleeping in parking lots, on steps, and some in cars. As Bettie, a woman who has spent substantial time sleeping on the streets, remarked, “one night on the streets is nothing like being homeless”. Nevertheless, the experience did give us a glimpse into the freezing temperature, the incessant noise, and the looks of judgment (as well as the lack of recognition) that the homeless endure on a daily basis.
We also spent some time serving breakfast and interviewing day laborers alongside the Street Level Clinic, founded by Laura, a woman who was once herself an undocumented immigrant. Hearing her story and conversing with the workers (mostly in Spanish) opened our eyes to the lives lived by the migrant workers, mostly from Guatemala. The workers came to the U.S. in order to support their families, making the long and difficult trek from their native home into the States. They spend each day waiting alongside the road for work. Some days they find work and some days they don’t, but when they are offered work, they hop in the car, no questions asked. Sadly, many of the workers have been regularly exploited, either not getting paid at all for a full day’s work, or worse, being asked to engage in sexual activity in exchange for money.
We later walked the streets of International Avenue, attempting to understand the lives of sexually exploited women, who have, through coercion, brutality, low self-esteem, and financial need, fallen into offering sex in exchange for money.
We also listened to speakers from different organizations about each topic, and have learned a lot about the roots of these injustices, though there is still so much more to learn.
Though we won’t be dealing with all of these issues for the rest of the summer, learning about them has opened our eyes to the injustices that are faced by so many people in Oakland and in cities around the country. Our hearts have begun to break for these injustices, and we will continue to ask God to use us for healing in these areas, and to heal us in the process as well.