Silicon Valley leaders learn about poverty through immersive experience

A group of Silicon Valley leaders learned some hard lessons Friday about living in poverty in one of the wealthiest areas of the country.

It was part of a simulation put on by Sunnyvale Community Services with the goal of showing the group what homelessness feels like, so they're better prepared to help.

Silicon Valley leaders were immersed in the experiences of unhoused residents.

"I just ran out of food stamps. I just found out I'm pregnant," said Bridget Watson.

Watson, who is normally a school board trustee, learned the struggles of an unhoused mother with a second child on the way.

"If this is what they're going through... I can't even imagine," said Watson.

But imagining was the point of the simulation.

Over the course of one morning, participants in the group lost jobs, were robbed, and missed out on benefits over transportation issues.

"Some of those households, the chairs are turned and that's because they got evicted," said Marie Bernard, executive director of Sunnyvale Community Services.

Sunnyvale Community Services put on the event in partnership with the Downtown Streets Team.

The Downtown Streets Team is made up of unhoused residents or those on at risk of experiencing homelessness.

"You get treated a lot differently. You get looked at a lot differently when you're homeless and all that," said Cory Johnston, who currently lives in a tent with his girlfriend and several cats.

The hoped that the public officials, CEOs and nonprofit heads that were part of the simulation, will use the knowledge they attained for good.

"It's really trying to make it so you're walking in the shoes of somebody that you may be taking a vote on," said Bernard.

Matt Brunnings, a civil engineer, said he'll go home more empathetic and likely more involved.

"Just seeing how perilous the lifestyle is when you're kinda one paycheck away one job away from homelessness," he said.

Sunnyvale Community Services helped 10,595 people with food and support last year and the numbers keep growing.