Yoshua Piescer said he was a little scared the other night when a homeless man waved him over in front of the Siena-Francis House homeless shelter.
The Creighton University student was in his second day of living at the homeless shelter as part of a spring break service trip. He already had his shoes stolen.
The man who waved him over was smoking a cigarette. It was dark. And Piescer was alone.
Piescer walked over. The man asked him for a hug. Nothing more.
“I hate to admit, but I did check my pockets afterward to see if everything was there,” said the junior nursing major. “And everything was. It really shows that ... beneath homelessness, all people are human and they need the same love and care we do, whether they need a hug or just someone to talk to.”
Six Creighton students spent 4 ½ days at the shelter. It was one of 20 spring break trips available through Creighton’s Schlegel Center for Service and Justice.
“They call it a homeless immersion experience, and it’s that,” said Tim Sully, developmental director at the Siena-Francis House. “You share the same living spaces, same bathrooms, same eating spaces with the 500 people who are here. The humanity is right in your face, and you can’t get away from it.”
Students work a variety of jobs while living at the shelter, including staffing the front desk, helping in the kitchen and picking up litter. The male students stay in the men’s shelter and the female students spend two nights in the overflow room and two in assigned housing.
“It’s not an easy trip,” said Jeff Peak, assistant director at the Schlegel Center. “But it’s one that for students is incredibly meaningful.”
Sully said that when students arrive, they usually have a “deer in the headlights” look and they’re generally anxious.
Bailey Hassman, a junior neuroscience and biology major, said the welcome she received really stood out to her.
“I did not expect at all to be welcomed as an outsider with zero clue what life is like as a homeless person,” she said.
The students said their biggest takeaway has been a change in their perception of homeless people.
“You know, I’ve always been blinded by the fact that beneath homelessness, beneath all that, is a person with their own individual story,” Piescer said. “The most import takeaway for me is never to assume. Never assume they got there on their own doing, never assume the worst in people, and never assume until you get to know who they are as a person.”