First-years spend night in city with the homeless

How does it feel?

To be without a home

Like a complete unknown

Like a rolling stone?

Bob Dylan’s famous lyrics from the song “Like a Rolling Stone” addressed homelessness in the 60s and asked if we truly knew what it was like. Besides the homeless themselves, few of us can truly understand what it is like to live among the corners of an unforgiving metropolis. But two students tried to gain a deeper understanding of these people and embarked on a social journey of enlightenment and deep conversations.

First year student Scott Shaffer approached Sevag Bakalian, also a first-year, about a possible trip into Philadelphia for one night with the city’s homeless.

Sevag was already considering doing this very thing and jumped at the opportunity to gain a better understanding of what homelessness is like.

“We wanted to go to a deeper level and see what they’re like and get to know them,” Scott said. “There was no ministry involved, just conversation.”

The two are members of the Youth Against Complacency and Homelessness Today group on campus, but they decided to do this independently and free from any class or organization.

“We’ve been going into the city for a couple weeks and we wanted to get a different perspective,” said Sevag, who also wanted to gain a deeper appreciation of what can be done to solve the ever growing problem of poverty.

On the evening of October 20th, armed with coats, a backpack, some medication and a Bible, Scott and Sevag made their way downtown. Heading towards City Hall, the two made their way to Market Street where they met the men with whom they would eventually spend the night.

Near the steps of the 8th Street subway, the boys met an interesting man named Wayne. Wayne lives next to the Burger King in a glass encased section of the wall. Sevag spent a lot of time getting to know Wayne and learned a lot of interesting things.

Wayne is an Italian who spent 5 years in prison for seeking revenge against someone who wronged his brother. Wayne created his own business of selling umbrellas on rainy days and water and ice when it’s hot. Five discs in his back give him trouble and his arthritic body requires the use of a wheelchair.

Besides talking with Wayne, Sevag also met an interesting character named Larry.

Larry spoke of conspiracy and paranoia about how the police, FBI and CIA have specifically targeted him and have attacked him throughout the years. Larry claims that the government inserted a mini-transmitter in his tooth and that both George and George W. Bush are out to get him.

While Sevag spoke with these men, Scott had been conversing with a cool and collected man who, he said, looks like Jesus. His name is Robert.

Robert is a writer who has learned the art of bumming smokes from people and seemed to do a good job of it. Robert began telling Scott about a story that he is working on that involves far off places and science fiction. As a former drug addict, he offers his own insight into addiction and told Scott that people just don’t have the will power to quit.

The hours passed by and most of the night was spent in friendly conversation. Scott spent nearly two and a half hours talking with Robert and Sevag spent that time with Larry.

“We really got to know them and we got to know their stories through conversations,” Scott said.

Keeping a budget of $2 apiece for food, the boys ventured to a 7-Eleven to find a meal for the night. They purchased a hot dog for each of the three men and a gallon of iced tea. They also purchased bread and Concord grape jam for themselves in order to hold them over for the next 20 hours.

Wayne prepared several boxes that would serve as a bed for the boys. Sleeping in the city was an interesting experience for both Sevag and Scott and they did not get much rest.

Scott and Sevag left the next day and had just enough money to catch the train to Sevag’s aunt’s house. But the trip had been a safe and successful one.

“It was definitely God’s protection that we didn’t get hurt,” Scott said. He has already planned to do it again.

“It is impossible to convey what we felt and reflecting has been hard,” said Sevag, who also added that it went very well.

“The experience gave us a deeper understanding but you cannot begin to really understand their lives in 20 hours,” Scott said. “It requires a longer commitment of friendship.”

Scott and Sevag experienced firsthand what it is like to be without a home and have answered Bob Dylan’s aching question of how it feels. They lived amongst friendly hospitable people who shared their lives and offered conversations that will last a lifetime.

Scott and Sevag continually wrote in a journal for the duration of the trip and collected their thoughts and ideas. Scott concludes his portion and reflects on his experience.

“Caring for people is a lifelong process, not something that we do once. There are so many needs to be met in this world, even right in our back yard. I’m going to meet those needs the best I can. I’m going to feed His sheep.”

For the journal in its entirety please visit:

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