When you hear about the homeless issues in the media, it often seems that the solutions being attempted are usually centered on housing. While, at first glance, this seems the most efficient approach, it is hardly a panacea. In order to maintain a roof over their heads, the homeless need other things. Sometimes it is discipline, sometimes it is substance-abuse treatment, sometimes it is a matter of helping them become employable.
One thing that is always central is that the issues of health and self-esteem seem to play a much more major role in rehabilitating the homeless than providing housing does. Just read some of the personal narratives contained in downTownUSA, and you will notice how frequently the homeless choose the streets over shelter.
One promising approach to solving these issues is Back On My Feet (BOMF), which started in Philadelphia and is in the process of going national. BOMF acts as a support group for the homeless, geared towards developing their discipline, health and self-esteem, so that they can get their lives back in order. How does it do this? Would you believe it, by running? Here is an excerpt from the description on the BOMF website:
We do not provide food or shelter, but instead provide a community that embraces equality, respect, discipline, teamwork and leadership. Our organization consists of much more than just running: our members participate in a comprehensive program that offers connections to job training, employment and housing. Those benefits are earned by maintaining 90 percent attendance at the morning runs three days a week for our six to nine month program.
As anyone who has ever tried a regular exercise regimen can attest, it takes a lot of discipline to go out and run every morning. Still, using running as a means of helping the homeless is not exactly the most intuitive approach.
Let’s take a look at things firsthand. Marisol Bello, a writer for USA Today, has a great article about the organization that includes this video, which contains interviews with the program operators and the participants:
In the text portion of Bello’s report we get some of the details on exactly how the program renders aid to its participants:
Those who show up 90% of the time in the first 30 days get a stipend of up to $1,250 to be used for rental deposits on apartments or to pay for furniture, classes, transit cards or clothes for a job. The stipend goes to the merchants, not the participant. The money comes from corporate and private donations, and shoe stores donate the sneakers.
More than half of those who have started the program are still participating or have left because they found jobs or homes, the group says.
Having that information on hand makes it much easier to see how useful BOMF can be. The stipend allows the participants to gradually ease back into society. If the group’s claims about the number of participants who have found homes and employment are correct, this looks like a winner.
Source: “Group Gets Homeless On Feet and Running,” USA Today, 09/07/10
Logo of Back On My Feet is used under Fair Use: Reporting.
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