A photo of students sleeping at Union Station
Students sleeping at Union Station. Photo by James Davis

Earlier this year, Street Sense Media vendors James Davis and Reginald Denny guided students from Xavier University during the National Coalition for the Homeless’ Urban Challenge program.

Xavier Adventures

By Reginald Denny, a.k.a. “The Original”

First and foremost, lest we forget, remember this: “All things work together for the good of them that love God and to them that are called according to his purpose.” A great writer penned these words. 

It is in “The Quiet Crucible of your Personal Sufferings that your noblest dreams are born, and God’s greatest gifts are given in compensation for what you have been through? 

This can be applicable to many who are homeless and even more to those who have had bouts with severe trials and tribulations. But God is faithful, and He will not allow you to suffer beyond that which you are able. Even in the trials He has a way of providing a way of escape that you can bear that which you are ultimately victorious throughout. 

Who am I? I am the original Reginald! There is none other like me…none before me and there will be none like me after me. What you see is what you get and you ain’t seen nothing yet. 

The good…the bad…and the indifferent, sometimes ugly, depending on what day it is, and every day is not the same. Thanks be to God for the ability to endure no matter what comes our way. 

I thank God for all He has done in my life, all what He is doing and all the things I know He will not hasten to perform in my life if I keep my eyes and mind on Him. 

There were ten students from universities who were to face the “Urban Challenge” devised by the National Coalition for the Homeless and they did just that, here in the nation’s capital of Washington, D.C. 

This experience was truly an exciting and intoxicating and somewhat pressure-filled moment for all involved, the students, guides and speakers (James Davis, Reginald Denny). To live the homeless life is like a sprained ankle – it ain’t nothing to play with, my friends. Even though this ‘urban challenge’ was expressly for the Xavier students, it was truly a divine moment for James and me. These nights were something to behold. 

We were scheduled to meet with the Xavier students at 8:00 p.m. to start the challenge. I arrived early to meet and greet visiting students. We were to meet at Freedom Plaza, adjacent to the Casimir Pulaski statue. As I waited their arrival, I saw off in the distance about 5 or 6 people careening along Freedom Plaza in my direction. It was not hard to recognize the students and their guide because they were carrying black trash bags but still moving hurriedly along. 

At that instant, I thought I would play a slick little maneuver on them. As I hid out of their sight, they reached the place of meeting at the Casimir Pulaski statue. When they had comfortably seated themselves on the wooden benches, not giving them notice, I aggressively approached them and lashed out at them, in a threateningly manner, saying they were in my space where I sleep! Not knowing that in fact I was one of the spokesmen who was to meet them. I let them off the hook immediately so as not to incite too much fright in them. We all laughed. 

These students (the first group) were in fact excited to be a part of the challenge. As we sat and talked about the first part of their day, it was truly something to behold. They told me they actually tested being homeless by having to pan-handle to obtain meals. It was disclosed to me that they did in fact raise money by pan-handling. Some were favored and some were not. Some people turned their noses up as if insulted, which the student felt was demeaning. No bathing, no money, no home to sleep in, sleeping outside in the elements and dealing with the public’s snarling comments and reactions on a daily basis, is truly an eye-opening experience for these students. 

We had great conversations when James Davis (my confidant) and trainer finally arrived. Other students eventually showed up.  We all had a great time getting to know one another and hearing the reasons for them accepting this challenge. It was getting late and somewhat breezy, so we decided it was time to settle down for the night. James and 10-12 students plus the guides began to prepare for our time to rest and sleep. After the long day the night sky enveloped us. We could hear and see skate boarders colliding on the pavement while we got ready, it was now about 11:00 pm. Everyone was weary but invigorated about the day of homelessness. 

Before we slept though, we all had to prepare our make-shift beds made of cardboard boxes. While the students and guides slept, James and I kept watch but in shifts. Around 1:30 am, it got a little bit colder than we are expecting. The one blanket did not fully serve the purpose for some of us. James and I decided to call hypothermic services for blankets. It took about 2 hours to get them to us, but this situation is part of the challenge, as it was now getting colder. The blankets finally arrived around 3:45 a.m. We finally slept.  

The next day we ended our part (James and I) and the students went on their way, in the second day of the challenge pan-handling and finding food. 

We met at the usual meeting place the second night around 8 p.m. We all decided to change the night’s sleeping location to Union Station which was another adventure! 

Urban Challenge: Xavier

By James Davis

Over the course of two days, myself and Reginald Denny participated in the National Coalition for the Homeless’s “Urban Challenge.” It was an eye-opening experience for the 10 students who participated, travelling from Xavier University in Cincinatti . They take with them a memory that will last not just through their college years, but a lifetime.  

On a Monday night, we slept out at Freedom Plaza, amid the lights of the Wilson and Reagan buildings. The students tried to sleep after a day of panhandling, going to “soup kitchens,” and applying for jobs disguised as homeless folks. They managed to sleep amid the noises from the skateboarders in the plaza and the construction work at the Wilson Building. 

On Tuesday night, we slept at Union Station since it was going to be a cold night. The students appreciate the warmth. At midnight, security came and escorted most or all of the homeless folks camped there out of the station.  

We managed to sleep where the Marc trains come in without being put outside. As luck would have it, one of the officer  used to be my ex-brother-in-law’s partner. I told him who I was with and told him about the program and he gave us VIP treatment. For that , one of the female students called me a god. Imagine that!  

Anyway, it was a great and humbling experience for all involved.