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News ::
Homelessness Marathon Raises More Than Hopes
14 Jan 2002
5TH annual 14-hour nation-wide radio broadcast focused on homelessness to be held in Portland, Oregon on February 5-6, 2002. Last years (2001) Homelessness Marathon held in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Homelessness Marathon Raises More Than Hopes

5TH annual 14-hour nation-wide radio broadcast focused on homelessness to be held in Portland, Oregon on February 5-6, 2002

By Morgan W. Brown

As darkness fell, one day late in January last year (2001), young and old gathered at "the pit" in Harvard Square to call attention to homelessness and the dire need for creating more affordable housing.

Earlier in the day, the skies were blue and sunny over the Boston area. The temperature was soothing as it was warm in the 50's with a moderate wind. The conditions changed later in the afternoon and even more so however as day grew into evening.

Huddling together, attendees attempted to light candles in the growing chill made worse by the brisk winter winds as they prepared for their candlelight vigil and street march.

The frigid weather could not help to bring to their minds why they were there and how urgent their cause was. Several of those participating were indeed either homeless or formerly homeless.

Whether they were busy organizing or were engaged in conversation, each person tried to stay warm, as it grew colder by the minute. Many eagerly held signs or shared the task of holding banners urging the need for housing, jobs, livable wages and the meeting of other basic human needs.

After a moment of silent reflection, the drums and tambourines gave out their beat and rhythm as various chants were called out, including:

What do we want?


When do we want it?


From the pit, the group - numbering over fifty people - marched on the sidewalk down several city blocks and streets to the steps of the Old Cambridge Baptist Church on Massachusetts Avenue chanting all the way.

Once the participants arrived at the steps of the church, a program was observed which included inspirational speeches, songs, prayers, with another long moment of silence observed.

These were among the local community preliminary events being held in conjunction with the fourth annual Homelessness Marathon sponsored by the Homeless Empowerment Project and, hosted at the Old Cambridge Baptist Church, last year.

Based at the Old Cambridge Baptist Church, the mission of the Homeless Empowerment Project is to play a role in ending homelessness in the community by providing income, skill development and self-advocacy opportunities to people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.

Along with the production, distribution and sale of their independent, street newspaper, Spare Change, the Homeless Empowerment Project operates a writerís workshop and a speakerís bureau.

While the air had become damp, raw and cold, it was none-the-less highly charged with the energy and excitement, not only by the moment or the cause being addressed, but by what everyone anticipated would take place there within the coming fourteen hours.

A certain number of those participating in the community events that evening would stay for either most or all of the duration of the nightlong nationwide radio broadcast.

In fact, some were there to take an intensely active part in the Homelessness Marathon. Some would be among those speaking during the open-mike periods. Or it could mean being a panelist or being a person at the on-site street microphone posing a question during one of the many discussion panels that focused on a given topic. Still others contributed in many other ways in this truly democratic event.

Jeremy Weir Alderson (also known as "Nobody") founded the Homelessness Marathon in 1998 as an offshoot of his regular radio program, "The Nobody Show," - broadcast weekly on WEOS, an National Public Radio (NPR) affiliate in Geneva, New York.

"That first year, I was just thinking of it as a matter of conscience," Alderson says. "Basically, I just wanted to get on the air and say, 'This isn't right, and I want no part of it,' and, of course, I wanted to bolster this argument with the opinions of experts and the voices of homeless people." He got the idea of broadcasting from outdoors in the dead of winter, he says, because he wanted to dramatize the plight of people with nowhere to go in the cold. And the marathon has been broadcast from outdoors ever since, even though other things about it have changed.

The Homelessness Marathon, already the largest media event in America focusing on poverty, has been widely recognized as an historic broadcast. Tapes of the marathons have been archived by libraries at Harvard, Stanford, Cornell, UCLA, Berkeley, the University of Chicago and many other institutions around the country.

The mission of this acclaimed radio broadcast is to let homeless people speak to the nation, but that is not all that happens during the annual, overnight program that has originated from a different city each year. Host "Nobody," broadcasts from outdoors to dramatize the plight of people with nowhere to go in the cold. For 14 hours, he interviews experts on various aspects of poverty in America (e.g. health care, hunger, public housing, etc.) and takes calls from around the country in addition to talking with homeless people.

The Homelessness Marathon is a consciousness raising, not a fund-raising event. "As a matter of policy, the marathon doesn't solicit money, because we really want people to understand that ending homelessness isn't a matter of charity but a matter of changing the way our society is structured," Alderson stated. "It's a matter of changing our national priorities. And to do that, we've got to listen to what homeless people, themselves, have to say.

"I used to think I had to scold people and tell them why they ought to care, but now I know that people really do care, and that homeless people aren't on the streets because that's where Americans want them to be. So I've backed off a lot, and I now mostly look at the marathon as giving people the reasons for what they already know in their hearts."

Over the years, the marathon has become something more than just a broadcast. Dozens of people, affiliated with organizations or just acting on their own, contribute their time (no one on the marathon staff gets paid) to help get the show on the air. And each year the broadcast has been associated with small marches and candlelight vigils around the country. "I'm not kidding myself that just the marathon is going to change the world," Alderson says, "but that's the goal, to create a world where the marathon will be obsolete, because there won't be any more homeless people.

"I've really come to believe that the American people want this problem solved," says Nobody. "That's the good news. But there's bad news too. The ongoing terrorist attacks and economic downturn are sure to make the numbers on the streets spike up dramatically. I think there's going to be an urgency to the next marathon unlike anything we've encountered before."

The 4th marathon was on at least 35 stations coast-to-coast, including stations broadcasting to such major metropolitan areas as Los Angeles, Seattle, Boston, Chicago and San Francisco. The 5th marathon will be hosted in Portland, Oregon by community radio station KBOO and "Street Roots," Portland's homeless paper.

To learn more about the Homelessness Marathon, such as how to acquire tapes from previous broadcasts or, where to listen in your region or of how a local radio station in your area can carry the broadcast and, of how to call in during the event, information is available online at:

Fifth Annual Homelessness Marathon:

For more information about the Homeless Empowerment Project in Cambridge, Massachusetts or Street Roots in Portland, Oregon, go to:

Homeless Empowerment Project:

Street Roots:

Morgan W. Brown is a writer and activist living homeless in Montpelier Vermont.

Homeless & Housing Online Information Resource Center:
See also:
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