The beautiful game brings dignity to the streets
I now find myself intrigued and even inspired by a type of street soccer. It first came to my attention via a small local newspaper produced on behalf of and sold by DC's homeless population called Street Sense. Maybe other cities have something similar. I love it. The idea is to provide a biweekly forum on issues of poverty, homelessness and related subjects while providing an income to the people who sell it on the street. Street Sense has an active list of 72 vendors, all of whom agree to a set of standards, and distributes about 30,000 issues each month.
I mention this as an introduction because the cover story last week was about a very cool event held in downtown Washington – actually just a block from NRDC’s office – known as Street Soccer USA (SSUSA): a soccer tournament for homeless athletes.
Street soccer is played in one fashion or another at least informally all over the world. But, in this case, SSUSA “utilizes the power of soccer to turn the lives of homeless for the better,” says the organization in a press release. I didn’t realize it until this year, but SSUSA hosts a “Street Soccer USA Cup” annually in DC. Teams of males and females representing a variety of agencies (grassroots, city wide, and national homeless service providers) from 18 cities competed this year in four-on-four action inside a temporary stadium placed in a vast parking lot that, immediately prior to the soccer tournament, hosted the Washington Kastles in World Team Tennis. Spectator admission was free, and the event also included entertainment and exhibition matches.
(The parking lot was once the site of Washington’s convention center, moved to a new facility several years ago. The development planned to replace it is participating in the LEED-ND pilot, though the recession has held up its progress.)
Prior to the tournament each year in DC, players participate in local “sport for social change" programs established around the country with a curriculum and set of best practices developed by SSUSA. Participants commit to change their lives by setting three, six, and 12 month personal goals. Working with coaches and volunteers, each player is held accountable to meet – and if possible exceed – his or her vision for a better self. SSUSA says that 75 percent of its participants secure jobs, housing, or pursue further education after participating in the program.
From among the homeless street soccer teams participating in the national tournament, SSUSA selects a US national team (8 males and 8 females) to travel to the Homeless World Cup in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in September. Street Soccer USA was founded by Lawrence Cann in 2004. For lots more good information, see the article in Street Sense, which contains some great first-hand accounts by participants from a DC-based team, here, and visit SSUSA’s site here.
What a positive contribution to community. It’s fun to watch, too – take a look at the video:
Move your cursor over the images for credit information.
Kaid Benfield writes (almost) daily about community, development, and the environment. For more posts, see his blog's home page.