Young 'Vincentian' Volunteers Venture to Skid Row for Weekend Urban Plunge


“This was but a taste – and a poor one at that – of what some people go through on a daily basis,” said Javier Hinojosa to several teens from Pacoima who spent a night at St. Vincent’s Cardinal Manning Center, a homeless shelter run by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in downtown Los Angeles’ Skid Row.

“I heard people complaining about having to sleep on air mattresses, but you still clung to your sheets when it was time to get up. I heard some of you complaining about having to get up so early, but remember: People down here – those who’re lucky enough to get a bed in a shelter – have to get up at 5 a.m. every day, have to be back out on the street by five every morning.”

Hinojosa, spiritual advisor of the Society’s Mary Immaculate Youth Conference in Pacoima, and the teens then shared about their impressions of life on Skid Row.

“The teens were here as part of an ‘urban plunge,’” said Manuel Sánchez, youth & young adult conference coordinator for the Society and leader of the weekend.

“Urban plunges are experiential opportunities for people to live and experience the realities on Skid Row,” Sánchez said. “A person who doesn’t have to live here will never really know what it’s like, but they can get a glimpse at life here, and may be moved to reach out in some way.”

An urban plunge usually includes a service opportunity, a tour of the Cardinal Manning Center and the surrounding Skid Row area, along with a history of Skid Row, a description of the current socio-political situation there, and a look to its possible future. Tours of neighboring agencies may also be part of the weekend, along with opportunities to interact with some residents there and learn about other agencies and their services.

During the weekend, time is also set aside to learn how to analyze a situation (such as homelessness and poverty) in light of Catholic social justice teachings, the Vincentian charism, and systemic issues, Sánchez said.

“We try to impart some tools – and a willingness to use those tools – to those who take part in an urban plunge,” he added. “Some of these kids may not be moved to act now, but down the line we hope that they’ll reach out to their neighbor in need.

“And you never know – some young person may be moved to act now, or may come to some insight that will affect change in his or her life immediately.”

Photo: Teens tour Skid Row.

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