Monday, March 30, 2009

Chicago Inferno

Playing soccer is a lifeline for the homeless
Homeless men find renewed purpose, camaraderie among soccer teammates

March 27, 2009

By MARISSA AMONI For The Beacon News
Soccer is no game to John Klicpera. It is the 24-year-old homeless man's lifeline.

"It keeps me away from a lot of other negative things," he said.

A member of the Hesed House Infernos soccer team shakes off a missed goal during the team's last game of the season.

Klicpera abused drugs in his teenage years and eventually landed in prison. He did his time, went through drug treatment in Rockford and then returned to Aurora, a city that feels like an "old playground" to him.

So when the opportunity arose to join a newly formed homeless soccer team, Klicpera joined in part to keep out of harm's way.

He had never played soccer before. But Klicpera was in good company because neither had the coach.

"I've never touched a soccer ball in my life," said Jason Holmes, who started the team last fall after being inspired by a late night of TV watching.

Holmes, 32, of Aurora, said that after seeing "Kicking It," a documentary film that chronicles players in the 2006 Homeless World Cup in South Africa, he immediately began researching the local street soccer scene. He e-mailed Lawrence Cann, president and founder of Street Soccer USA, and found out that no homeless soccer teams existed in the Chicago area.

With Cann's long-distance support, Holmes took a self-guided crash course in the sport through library books and soon posted recruitment fliers throughout the Hesed House homeless shelter in Aurora, where he works as a program director.

The fliers drew a meager response, so Holmes grabbed a ball one day in October and staged a game across the street.

"Guys just came over to play," Holmes said.

Word of the team quickly spread. At the first official practice for team Inferno, more than a dozen came to play. The team since has an open-door policy and has had as many as 25 players on its roster at one time. Holmes said the "biggest indicator" of success is the number of people who continue to play.

Since its inception, the team has been a refuge for the players -- homeless men who sometimes must angle for a bed to sleep on at night.

"You've got to become a survivor," Klicpera said. "I'm 24; I don't believe I should be where I am. (Homelessness) is really hard -- the people, the times, going from here to there. ... (Soccer) is positive. It is something to look forward to."
In the past year, Juan Venecia went from using crack to being the Infernos' team manager. The 52-year-old deserted his home in Texas to escape a life that wasn't doing him any favors. "It was time for me to go," he said.

Venecia said the homeless shelter has been "rehab" for him. Soccer helps keep him in shape and keep his routine going, so days don't blend together.

Some of the men say the team has changed them for the better.

"(Soccer) brought (the guys) more together. We never talked to each other before," Klicpera said. "Soccer makes (each of) us a better person."

Looking for success

"I need to dig myself out of the hole I'm in and try to get on level ground," said Jeremy Sebek, 24, a team member who came to Aurora from Sandwich after he was kicked out of his mom's house..

The sentiment was shared among the players -- homelessness is temporary. Almost half of the players are living in homes now.

"Hopefully none of these guys will be homeless in July," Holmes said.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Boston Planning Meeting

Street Soccer is coming to Boston! Are you in the Boston area and looking to get involved with Street Soccer USA? If so, please write Christa ( or Caeli ( and let them know! An initial program meeting will be held in Boston in the upcoming weeks and we'd love to have you there!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Thank you Sheriff

Kevin Carroll Katalyst Coach's Award Winner, Sara Silvennoinen, and her Anna Arbor team organized by Washtenaw County Social Services continue to build bridges, change lives, and kick balls. Check out the playbill for March 29th posted below. Many, many thanks to the County Sheriff's office and to the leadership at Washtenaw County Social Services. Improved relations between people on the street and law enforcement has already been documented since the two groups started playing together a couple months ago. Thanks to Sara and her team for innovating and once again leading the way!

Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office
Washtenaw County Street Soccer Team (S.S. PORT)
Street Soccer Project Outreach Team

Sunday March 29, 2009
12:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.

Wideworld Sports Center
2140 Oak Valley Drive, Ann Arbor MI 48103

Washtenaw County Sheriff employees will be playing the local homeless soccer team (S.S. PORT); participation has been shown to help the homeless connect their players with housing, mental health and/or substance abuse treatment, jail diversion service, community resources, socialization, and a greater sense of motivation ending in a higher degree of self-esteem.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Fort Worth Street Soccer Effort Recognized

Please Read this exerpt from a thoughtful article by DAVID CASSTEVENS in the Star Telegram about the good people in Fort Worth and their work. Congrats Team!!

"The right direction

Typically, nine to 12 men attend the two-hour workouts. Some are more reliable — and trustworthy — than others. One player missed a recent practice because he had reportedly stolen $200 and was in hiding. Wilson wants the others to understand how the wrongful action of one person affects the team.

"I’m not expecting these guys to sing in the choir," he says. "But they need to set some goals, which we help them do. They need to make an effort to do better than they did yesterday."

Two men grew up with both parents in prison. One was adopted at age 5 and then sexually and physically abused. The courts placed him in a foster home. He has turned to the team’s directors for guidance, stability and a sense of security he has never known.

Mark, 35, is already headed in the right direction. Living on his own since he was 13, he has moved from the Presbyterian Night Shelter into an apartment complex and works full time at Patriot House, the night shelter’s home for veterans. His long-time dream is to join the Navy.

"I haven’t missed one practice," he says proudly.

Bryan, 24, found himself on the streets seven months ago after he got into a fight with his stepfather. He left home at 15 and told Gray — "Miss Karla" — that he spent two years at a juvenile detention facility after committing an assault. He said he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder but doesn’t take medication.

"I love soccer," Bryan says, beaming. "It helps me get rid of stress. It don’t matter if we win or lose every game. I’m committed to the team."

After Gray counseled him, she wrote down two assignments and placed the folded slip of paper into Bryan’s hand.

"You do these before the next practice, OK?" she said.

Bryan promised to obtain a copy of his birth certificate and get meds at John Peter Smith Hospital.

Spreading the word

Before the homeless men are allowed to compete — they will play an area team Saturday at the practice field one block west of the Presbyterian Night Shelter — each must open a savings account and deposit an agreed-upon sum every month. Gray and Wilson also request that they volunteer at the shelter. In the future, players will be asked to share their stories at churches, schools and civic-group meetings.

As word spreads on the street, Wilson hopes more people will join.

Participation is more unpredictable than the weather.

Recently, a young man from Nigeria appeared at the practice field and stepped off his bicycle.

"What is going on here?" he asked in a clipped accent.

"We’re playing soccer," Gray replied with a welcoming smile. "What’s your name?"


"Hi, James, I’m Karla." She nodded toward the field. "Wanna play?"

The invitation appeared to take him by surprise.

"Are you sure you want me to play?"

"Of course."

James threw back his head, turning his wide grin to the heavens.

"Glory be to God!" he cried.

James happily joined the group of black, Anglo and Hispanic men as they practiced foot drills and kicked the ball into a goal fashioned from plastic pipe and volleyball netting.

Like the World Cup

On the morning of their first game, the coach and directors had no idea how many players would keep their word and meet for the trip to Austin.

Four arrived at the practice field. Then, five others showed up.

They loaded into two vehicles and headed south. A member of Robbins’ church donated $200 to cover expenses for the daylong adventure. In Austin, they ate hamburgers for lunch and then went on a field trip.

"Do you want to put on your jerseys?" Gray asked.

Everyone did. Dressed in matching red and white, the players posed for a group photo and walked wide-eyed around the University of Texas. Most had never set foot on a college campus.

At that moment, this loose bunch of homeless men felt like — and became — a team, the North Texas Stars.

In street soccer, four players on each side compete on a hard surface about the size of a basketball court. The Stars played three games in a church gymnasium against what, for now, is the only other homeless team in Texas. The Stars won all three.

"Some guys were about to pass out," Robbins recalled, smiling at their competitiveness and effort. "They played like this was for the World Cup."

It was after midnight when the team arrived home, tired and happy. Mark was dropped off at his apartment. Others got out at the shelter, where row after row of people lay asleep beneath blankets on the concrete. Three Hispanic players asked to be taken to another location.

The coach thought guiltily about the warmth and comfort of his own bed as the men nodded good night and headed off, on foot, silently disappearing into the night."

--writenn by DAVID CASSTEVENS of the Fort Worth Star Telegram