The Homelessness Marathon
The Truth About Homelessness
These facts are not part of the national dialog about homelessness (such as it is).
* Other countries take different approaches to homelessness than we do, and some do a much, much better job of preventing it than we do. They do things like keep families in their homes, even if the state has to pay the rent for a long time, because they know that the financial and social toll of homelessness would be far greater.
* For many years now, official homelessness policy in the United States has revolved around encouraging a plethora of local initiatives usually called something like "A Ten Year Plan To End Homelessness." What has been missing from all of these ten-year plans is a date on which, according to the plan, homelessness would actually end. The plans were never more than public relations gimmicks, they have massively failed, and they do not represent a serious attempt to resolve the homelessness crisis.
* Recently, unofficial homelessness policy across the United States has been to criminalize homelessness, like something out of Dickens' time. Homeless people are routinely rousted, arrested and driven from their encampments, which, for many of them (especially women), represent their only place of safety. The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development does not withhold funds from communities that treat homeless people badly. HUD simply doesn't care.
* Before the 2007 financial crash, there was one (still unrecognized) group of people sounding the alarm. Homeless advocates tried to warn people that our modern crisis of homelessness was not caused by people gone bad, but by a system gone bad, and that this malfunctioning system would attack more than the poorest of the poor. Sure enough, the global economy nearly collapsed, because of a burst bubble in (not-coincidentally) the U.S. housing market. The message from homeless advocates is still the same: widespread homelessness is a symptom of a cruel economy tricked up to help only the rich.
The 16th Homelessness Marathon is available for rebroadcast
Hour One: Click here
Hour Two: Click here
Hour Three: Click here
Hour Four: Click here
Hour Five: Click here
Hour Six: Click here
The Nobody Show," which I then broadcast weekly on WEOS, an NPR and Pacifica affiliate in Geneva, NY. That first year, I was thinking of it purely as a matter of conscience. I was born and raised in New York City. There was no problem with homelessness there when I was growing up, and I was heartsick to see what was happening. So I basically just wanted to get on the air and say, "This isn't right, and I want no part of it."
Of course, I did whatever I could to make it a good broadcast. I tried to bolster my argument with the opinions of experts and the voices of homeless people. And I got the idea to broadcast from outdoors in the dead of winter, because I thought it might be a way to dramatize the plight of people with nowhere to go in the cold. But it never occurred to me that this was something I'd ever do again. So I liken this to falling in love with a poor girl and then discovering that she's rich. I was really surprised by the reaction I got.
People brought me coffee throughout the night, without my even having asked for it. And when I got off the air, people dug into their pockets for crumpled up bills to help defray my expenses. I really don't think this was because the broadcast, itself, was so good (believe me, we've gotten a lot better since). But it was obvious that the concept had seized people's imaginations, and how often does that happen?
So I decided to put the Marathon up on the NPR satellite, and we've just grown every year since. More and more volunteers have come on board, and more and more radio stations too. The 7th Marathon (in 2004) was carried on 80 stations with another 30 in Canada carrying a parallel Canadian Homelessness Marathon.
As the Marathon has grown, its philosophy has evolved. When I started, I thought I had to scold people and tell them why they ought to care, but now I know that Americans really do care, and that no matter how grave the failings of our society may be, homeless people aren't on the streets because that's where we, as a people, want them to be. So I've backed off a lot. I now mostly look at the Marathon as giving people the reasons for what they already know in their hearts.
Jeremy Weir Alderson
Director, Homelessness Marathon