If you live in any decent-sized city in the U.S., chances are you drive or walk by a person who’s homeless every day. People who are homeless exist in most industrialized societies, and it’s an issue that has no easy solutions.
Anne Mahlum jogged by homeless people every day, like thousands of others do. But one day, she decided to take action.
“Why am I running past these guys?” recalls Mahlum, 27, on CNN.com. “I’m moving my life forward every day — and these guys are standing in the same spot.”
Instead of continuing to pass them by, the veteran marathoner sprang into action so they could join her. She contacted the shelter, got donations of running gear, and in July 2007 the “Back On My Feet” running club hit the streets.
You might be like, “Huh? How is running going to help someone who’s homeless?”
The answer is more psychological than material — it helps someone who’s temporarily homeless to get a little control back in their lives. But you do have a short track record of sobriety, which can be a goal unto itself, and there’s a job training program too:
Requirements for shelter residents to join are simple — they must live in an affiliated facility and be clean and sober for 30 days. Members receive new shoes and running clothes, and teams run together three times a week between 5:30 and 6 a.m.
[…] Back On My Feet also has a job training program for a partner. Three members are taking classes, learning computer and interview skills, while three others have found jobs.
These things help. And Mahlum doesn’t pretend that this is some sort of “cure-all.” But she recognizes that people have an innate need to be treated with a tiny amount of humanity and compassion. And compassion toward those who are homeless is often sorely lacking.
The most interesting thing to me is that the running club is actually a support group in disguise. Since “support group” often has a negative connotation, people feel more comfortable joining an affinity group — in this case, for running. Members run, of course, but they also get all the intangible benefits — emotional and psychological support — that come with a more traditional support group, as well as tangible benefits such as learning goal-setting and increased discipline.
For Mahlum and others, Back On My Feet is more than a running club. “We’re a community of support, love, respect,” she says.
[…] Runners greet each other with hugs and words of encouragement. While members say they’ve lost weight, quit smoking and have more energy, Mahlum believes they’re also learning important life skills such as discipline and goal-setting that can help them get on the road to self-sufficiency.
Back on my Feet plans on expanding to additional shelters in Philadelphia, and then across the country in years to come.
I think it’s a great example of how one person with one simple idea can still make a significant impact in many people’s lives — lives that most others have given up on. It’s no wonder she’s a “CNN Hero.”
Read the full story at CNN.com: Runner gets homeless on right track