[Hpn] Homelessness Marathon Raises More Than Hopes
Morgan W. Brown
Sat, 10 Nov 2001 20:58:21 -0500
Below is a forward of a copy of a draft of an article that I just wrote for
a publication in Vermont which sometimes publishes my work. I am also
submitting to other publications as well for broader and wider distribution.
Morgan W. Brown
Homelessness Marathon Raises More Than Hopes
Voices of people who are homeless heard during 14-hour nationwide annual
radio broadcast from the streets
By Morgan W. Brown
5TH Homelessness Marathon to be held in Portland, Oregon on February 5-6,
Cambridge, Massachusetts –- As darkness fell, one day late in January
earlier this year (2001), young and old gathered at the "Pit" in Harvard
Square to call attention to homelessness and the dire need for creating
Huddling together, attendees attempted to light candles in the growing chill
- which was only made worse by the brisk winter winds – while they prepared
for a candle light vigil along with the street-march to come.
Whether they were busy organizing or were engaged in conversation, each
person tried to stay warm, as it grew colder by the minute.
The frigid weather could not help to bring to mind why each person was there
and how urgent the cause was. Many of those participating were indeed either
homeless or formerly homeless.
Once the evenings initial program commenced, as they stood listening to
short speeches and announcements, many 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 its rhythm as various chants were called out, including:
"What do we want?” – “Housing” - “When do we want it?” –
>From the Pit, the group - numbering over fifty people - marched down the
sidewalk 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, another program
was observed which included inspirational speeches and songs along prayers
and another long moment of silence.
While the air was extremely 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.
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, this year.
Based at the Old Cambridge Baptist Church, the mission of the Homeless
Empowerment Project is to play a role in ending homelessness in our
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
writer’s workshop and a speaker’s bureau.
Several of those participating in the community events that evening,
including yours truly, would stay for either most or all of the duration of
the nightlong nationwide radio broadcast.
In fact, some of us were there to take an active part in the Homelessness
Marathon. This would mean being among one of those speaking during the
open-mike periods or, 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 or, by contributing in many other ways in this
truly democratic event.
Jeremy Weir Alderson (aka "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.
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
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
"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.”
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 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.
"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 by community radio station KBOO and "Street Roots," Portland's
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 can
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:
Morgan W. Brown is a “serious & persistent” homeless activist, writer and
poet living in Montpelier.
-------End of forward-------
Morgan W. Brown
Montpelier Vermont USA
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