The Homelessness MarathonThe 18th Annual Homelessness Marathon aired from Washington D.C. February 17, 2016.
The Homelessness marathon is America's only national broadcast focusing on homelessness and poverty.
Listen to the 2016 show
I founded The Homelessness Marathon in 1998 as an offshoot of, "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