One of my homeless neighbours in Oakland, California, was always willing to take time out for a chat. He taught me a lot about what hard work it is to live on the streets. He knew deep loneliness and the humiliation of strangers' judgements. He described the suspicion of potential employers and the lack of even one small room of refuge.
The old hunter gatherers had it easy by comparison. From early in the morning until darkness sent potential donors into their warm houses, my neighbour was gathering the spare change that would buy that day’s food and hunting a safe place to spend the night.
I thought of him when I watched one of the latest videos from Storytellers for Good and learned about Back On My Feet. The video tells the story of Anthony, Wahid, and Isaac, three homeless Chicago men who became part of a team that trained for the Chicago marathon.
Back On My Feet doesn’t provide shelter or serve meals. Instead it builds self-esteem and confidence through running. Those who stick with the rigorous training for the first 30 days are eligible for educational and job training opportunities, as well as financial assistance to help them move toward self-sufficiency.
What Isaac describes is true of all of us, but coming from someone who has known prison and homelessness, it is all the more inspiring:
If you don’t open up your horizons, you just stay in a box. You ain't gonna be nothing but just the size of that box. I choose to get up out of the box. The box is not going to define me.
Isaac, Anthony and Wahid did more than finish the Chicago race. They completed another marathon, the run to get off the streets. Isaac finished university and is working in a culinary arts program. Anthony completed certification as an unarmed security officer. Wahid is studying to renew his Mortgage Brokers’ license.
Back On My Feet, with chapters in nine American cities, is not just easing the pain of homelessness. It is changing lives.