SAN JOSE, Calif. (KTVU) - It’s a field trip that took some students from Santa Clara University out of their comfort zone. They visited a homeless encampment in San Jose Monday evening. They were there to both pass out blankets and also gain some perspective.
For the majority of the students, stepping into this mud-soaked homeless encampment off Macrdes Avenue in San Jose is a first for them, never having much contact with the homeless before.
“A lot of us call Santa Clara “Claradise” and I guess this is the dark side of “Claradise,” said Melendez. “You are kind of in your nice palm tree filled bubble out there. This is just whole different world.”
Melendez is one of 20 students taking part in a "religious studies" class who passed out food and other items to more than a dozen homeless people living in tents, seeking warmth in the cold.
“It’s sad to see,” said Melendez. “You can't escape the sadness.”
Professor Philip Riley said their interaction is a reality check and a course on solidarity. According to CHAM Deliverance Ministries, more than 4,500 people are homeless in San Jose and125 died on the streets last year.
"There's so many of these camps just like this,” said Pastor Scott Wagers of CHAM Deliverance Ministries. “What they saw is a microcosm.”
On this visit, a student from Morocco grappled with what she can do to help.
“I don't have much to offer them aside from talking to them for a few minutes,” said Student Imane Jahid. “I just don't know if my presence here is going to help them.”
What she and many other students didn't realize is that human connection did help. Richard Womack is among the homeless people living there.
“I think it's a wonder and it's more than we ever imagined,” said Womack.
Above all, the students’ time is helping to break down stereotypes and misconceptions as well as broadening their perspectives.
“They don't want to have to ask people for stuff,” said Melendez. “They want to have value in their life which is common theme I’ve heard before.”
“At the end of the day we are all residents of the same community,” said 22-year-old Julie Wood. “We all owe it to each other to transform this place and call it a comfortable good home.”