I heard from my old friend in the Finger Lakes in upstate New York, Jeremy Alderson, about the upcoming 17th Homelessness Marathon, happening this coming Tuesday and Wednesday [CORRECTION–it’s on Tuesday, Feb. 17 and Wednesday Feb. 18th]. This is an annual, 14-hour, overnight radio broadcast focusing on homelessness, broadcast from the streets of a different city each year, airing the voices of the homeless themselves, and homeless advocates.
The program often originates from a cold northern city–I remember volunteering for it when it happened in Cambridge, MA more than ten years ago now–but this year’s program originates in Sarasota, FL–Jeremy tells me that Florida is “arguably, the very worst state in its treatment of the homeless.”)
It’s an amazing program, the most sustained broadcast in the country focusing on poverty (I remember that when I volunteered for the marathon when it was in Cambridge, part of my job was to line up public and community stations to air it, and it was pitiful and shameful how many “public” radio stations couldn’t see fit to do so, but wonderful how many stations across the country did), and it is truly remarkable to hear homeless people tell their own stories live on the radio.
I urge you to tune in, and also to contribute to the Indiegogo campaign that will fund this year’s program. Details below.
17th Homelessness Marathon
The Homelessness Marathon is the one place where homeless people get to tell their stories, not as poor unfortunates appealing to the mercy of their betters, but as Americans talking to their fellow citizens about the conditions they face and what, from their perspective, they see happening in our country.
The broadcast runs for 14 hours overnight. It is almost entirely live, We gather homeless people in a central location and talk with them all night, while taking calls from around the country and talking to experts, advocates, and politicians, among others. The next broadcast is slated to originate from Sarasota, Florida, starting at7 p.m., eastern time, on Tuesday, February 17th and ending at 9 a.m., eastern, on Wednesday, February 18th. It will air on dozens of radio stations coast-to-coast, and ten hours of it will be carried on Free Speech TV, which has channels on Dish Network, DirecTV and online.
Homeless people love the broadcast, because it gives them the dignity of feeling like human beings whose concerns are being taken seriously.
“When I was listening to the show… I was reminded that there’s safety in numbers, and that working together, we can help each other get back on our feet. I thought the Marathon was great.” Jeff Roderick, a resident of Seattle’s Tent City.
“What it did was bring a lot of people together.” Big Sue, a homeless woman in Fresno, CA.
“It was a special event, almost a party, but people showed great respect for each other. There was a lot of talk amongst the guests about issues of homelessness. It was a wonderful environment… I have a section 8 voucher and will now try harder to get out of the shelter and into housing. This night has given me some perspective on my situation… I still have a problem, but I feel more empowered…” Charles Swenson, homeless paper vendor with multiple sclerosis in Cambridge, MA.
“I was BLOWN AWAY to hear it on the radio. You have no idea… to really hear myself represented in such an honest way was like a re-birth of some kind. I felt validated as a human being, and that’s something that occurs very seldom among the homeless. Again, THANK YOU.” Carrie, living in her car at freeway rest stops in California.
“Homelessness, it’s not for nobody. Like, it’s too much out here. Like, and then theys people out here with their children, like babies, and older people out here that they should be taken care of. And it’s not for nobody. It’s enough to make somebody cry, like seriously.” Gwen, homeless participant in Detroit, who was four days from her baby’s due date.
This will be our 17th broadcast. We’ve originated from Cleveland, Detroit, Philadelphia, Atlanta, post-Katrina Mississippi, and lots of other places over the years. We chose Sarasota for the site of our 17th broadcast because we are partnering with the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) to highlight some of the worst conditions for homeless people in the country. According to the NCH, many of our nation’s cruelest cities are in Florida, and Sarasota, itself, was one year named the cruelest city of all.
We’ll be hosted in Sarasota by community radio station WSLR, which is located in the heart of an area frequented by homeless people. WSLR has a large outdoor patio where we can conduct the broadcast and welcome many guests. Part of our plan is to bring delegations from some of the other Florida cities that the NCH has criticized and hold a Homeless People’s Convention to demand change and give free advice. The “free advice” part is important, because Sarasota is a city that paid more than $150,000 to a consultant, whose very limited advice — e.g. to build another shelter — they didn’t take anyway. Instead they’ve come up with a plan to give homeless people one-way bus tickets out of town.
Homeless people aren’t the only ones who think the Homelessness Marathon is an important broadcast.
“Several people have brought you up in different meetings. A new awareness has emerged in our community about homelessness.” Roberta Avilla, director Mississippi Interfaith Disaster Task Force.
“This is as real as anything I’ve ever been a part of…This is a great thing. This has brought focus.” Fresno Mayor Alan Autry “Appearing on the Homelessness Marathon was a true learning experience for me. People walked up to the mic and explained in plain language why they were homeless, and most of it had to do with losing a job and being unable to pay the rent, which can happen to any of us. The Marathon put a human face on something that too many turn their backs on as an aberration.” Laughlin McDonald, Director ACLU Voting Rights Project “This was a pretty incredible experience for us at Columbus house, staff and guests alike. I believe that the folks who were on the air with you stretched beyond their immediate experience of the shelter to speak on the larger issues, which was profound for them, and for me.” Alison Cunningham, director, Columbus House, New Haven, CT “The Marathon generated more interest and conversation than I would ever have imagined. I think that it got folks thinking about the issue in renewed ways…. Blessings on your work.” Sister Donna Hawk, director Transitional Housing, Inc., Cleveland, OHEveryone who works on the Homelessness Marathon is a volunteer. 100% of the money you donate (except for Indiegogo’s fee and the cost of premiums) will go to the nuts and bolts of the broadcast, transporting staff, buying satellite time, installing telephone lines, etc. If we don’t reach our funding goal, we’ll still put on the broadcast, as best we can. It won’t be the first one we’ve jury-rigged and still made it through.
This isn’t easy work, because attitudes that denigrate and isolate homeless people are now deeply entrenched in our culture and political system. That’s why we need your help. Please help us show what the poorest of the poor in our country really face, and please help us, too, to encourage America onto a better path.