Growing up in a small, mostly blue-collar suburban village, 60 miles north of NYC in the 70’s and 80’s it was rare for me to come across homelessness. Travelling to larger cities like Poughkeepsie or Newburgh, you might come across some people experiencing poverty — venturing into the Big Apple from time to time offered a small window into what I viewed homelessness to be. My perception then was someone eating, sleeping, living on the sidewalk or in an alley, and perhaps calling a large piece of cardboard or box home.
What picture develops or what adjectives come to mind when you hear the term “homelessness”?
Roughly four years ago, I began volunteering with a non-profit called Back on My Feet that uses community resources, employment partners and of all things, running, to help those experiencing homelessness back on a path towards self-sufficiency, confidence and independence. The Indianapolis chapter, where I volunteer, also partners with two transitional housing facilities.
I have learned that to be homeless, also means you don’t have a home. You can have a roof over your head, a mattress to sleep on and even running water and it’s still not home — home is different. Home means it’s yours. This is Mike’s place or Clyde’s house or Joe’s apartment. Home is a place where you can welcome in friends, spend time with family and break bread or have coffee or a conversation.
When someone becomes homeless, what happens is that connections are broken. Connections to work, opportunity and income, friends and sometimes family and connections to community dissolve and fade. It’s similar to atrophy when your physical and/or mental abilities gradually decline. You lose a job, perhaps abuse drugs or alcohol , make a poor choice— this can be a first step towards breaking those connections.
Through their resources and tools, Back on My Feet helps to address that social or communal atrophy. With their employment and community partners, Back on My Feet can provide financial education and guidance as well as assistance with job training and employment opportunities. Through running it helps to reestablish routine, drive, goal-setting, milestones and achievement. Gathering and running on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 5:45 am with team members and volunteers helps rebuild the human connection with hugs, handshakes and high fives. Time spent and miles logged during runs often provides opportunities to talk, share experiences or just listen.
Step by step, Back on My Feet is redefining Homelessness. What goes through your mind when you see a homeless person?
For more information on Back on My Feet, please visit: http://www.backonmyfeet.org/mission-vision