While wandering D.C. the other day during my lunch break, I picked up a copy of Street Sense, our local street paper. Its cover story caught my eye: a homeless street soccer tournament held July 31-August 2nd, in D.C. The tournament was a play-off to select the U.S. team to attend the Homeless Street Soccer World Cup this September 6-13, in Milan, Italy.
The seventh annual Street Soccer World Cup will attract 48 nations and 500 players from around the world. Homeless men, women, and youth age 16 and up are eligible to play. During their time at the tournament, players are provided with food and housing; a respite from homelessness. Plus, they get the chance to represent their country and see a bit of the world. The first Street Soccer World Cup was held in Graz, Austria, in 2003.
You might ask, but how does a street soccer World Cup help ameliorate homelessness? Street Sense‘s recent issue and the U.S. Street Soccer website help me answer this by explaining that most shelters positioned to work with the homeless are generally only able to address individual’s basic needs: temporary housing, food, medical care, clothing, mental health and addiction counseling, and the like. Street Soccer goes beyond those important basic needs to give players a hobby, a place to release tensions, give play to passion, build self-esteem, work on trust, improve communication, beat addiction, and facilitate cooperation. In fact, Street Soccer USA asserts that 75 percent of homeless players move off of the streets within a year of joining a street soccer team.
D.C.’s team, the Knights, is comprised of about 15 Spanish-speaking players from Neighbors Consejo, a service organization helping Hispanic men with mental health and addiction issues, and others from throughout the city. They practice weekly in town.
To learn more about the Homeless World Cup, view shocking stats about homelessness (there are one billion homeless worldwide; 3.5 million in the U.S. alone), check out a map of participating nations, and see how you can help, stop by the World Homeless Street Soccer World Cup site here.
Also, don’t forget National Geographic magazine’s super feature on soccer, “The World’s Game,” from its June 2006 issue here. Finally, if you’ve got a moment, check out a documentary all about the Homeless World Cup, Kicking It.
Photo: Daniel Gangur
- Nat Geo Expeditions