“I’m kinda from everywhere.” Christopher Williams is 21 years old and today he lives in Portland. He just came from Boston, and a few weeks ago he was in Lewiston. But, everywhere he goes, he is homeless.
“I’ve been homeless off and on since I was 16,” he said. “Sometimes I sleep at a friend’s house or in a hallway. Hallways are my favorite spot. They are a lot easier than finding a shelter.”
The sixth annual Homelessness Marathon was held in Monument Square in Portland last week. It was broadcast on WMPG from 7 p.m. until the end of the marathon. The broadcast was carried on over 70 stations nationally and 17 stations in Canada. WMPG also had a link on its Website to a streaming Web broadcast that could be accessed from anywhere in the world. The site also had a live Web cam showing the “Tabernacle of Truth,” or outdoors broadcast booth.
Host of WMPG’s Sound Ecology program, Karen D’Andrea produced the Sixth Annual Homeless Marathon as well as coordinated. The Homelessness Marathon was established in 1998 by Jeremy Weir Alderson at a small radio station in New York. The marathon is not a charity fund-raiser but an awareness-raiser. The marathon does not solicit money; all the aspects of hosting the event are donated or volunteered.
Alderson blames the national plight of homelessness on “the unjust distribution of wealth.”
“We need to reverse what has happened over the last 25 years,” he said. “We need to build more public housing, raise the minimum wage, provide more, not less support for low income people and extend the social safety net. We need national health care and guaranteed employment, even if it means government jobs.”
The broadcast included panels of homeless youths, discussions of homelessness and mental health, homelessness in literature, a speak-out from a homeless people’s town meeting in Denver, among other discussion. Many of these discussions encouraged people to call in, and calls were logged from as far away as Switzerland and Japan.
Erica Hansen and Adrienne St. Jean work with homeless teens at Sweetser. They participated in the marathon from 9 a.m. Wednesday to 9 a.m. Thursday, handing out pamphlets of information about homeless teens to sitting around the burning barrel at midnight, trying to stay warm among those who were homeless for the night, and those who are always homeless.
“The most surprising thing so far has been the lack of attention,” St. Jean said. “This event is supposed to draw attention to the cause.”
“Last year the statewide homelessness marathon attracted more people and media coverage,” Hansen agreed. “Where’s Portland?”
The turn out was light compared to last year, several participants noted, but at the same time, there was a lot of support from businesses and citizens with donations of food and time.
“A lot of people felt supported, and that their voices had been heard,” said Hansen. “It’s powerful medicine for a lot of people.”
Hansen also speculated that the reason for the smaller turn out could be attributed to the current culture of war. She said that despite the night’s 12 degree temperature, it had been colder the year before.
Inside Coffee By Design, the engineering booth for WMPG during the marathon, Nate Corey, an 18-year-old Deering High School, student communicated with the “Tabernacle” over a computer. “I’m supposed to go to school tomorrow, but I’m not going,” he said. He and engineers put through telephone calls to the hosts and made sure the segues between segments and reports and broadcasts from locations around the world were precise.
Elise Adams can be contacted at [email protected]