Our Daily Dread: Where soccer will make a difference this weekend

It ain’t tomorrow night at the Rose Bowl, when the Galaxy faces … whatever foreign team with the American goalie.

It’s this weekend in Washington D.C. — 160 homeless men and women from 16 cities gather for the 2009 Street Soccer USA Cup, stating today and ending Sunday at Washington’s Kastles Stadium.

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Street Soccer USA (linked here), along with umbrella program Help USA (linked here) kicks off the event.

Each team of men and women who are currently homeless or have been homeless in the past year will play four-on-four soccer matches on a small court.

Los Angeles will be represented by Jovenes, Inc., (linked here and linked here), the non-profit near Boyle Heights that started a program for at-risk and homeless youth in the community (linked here). Johnny Figueroa, an orphan from Honduras who played on the 2008 U.S. national team, is coaching the L.A. squad (linked here).

The importance of the weekend, aside from competition and camaraderie, is that the top eight players will represent the U.S. team in the 48-nation Homeless World Cup, two months from now in Milan, Italy.

Says Lawrence Cann, founder and CEO of Street Soccer USA,: “(It) allows players to strive as part of a team towards a larger goal of improving their lives and playing for the Street Soccer USA Cup sustains them in that effort. Likewise, the Cup provides volunteers the chance to engage in a movement that shifts how we address homelessness in our society.”

Cann has also started a campaign called “Be A Number 10″ (linked here).

“In soccer, number 10 belongs to the leader on the field,” Cann writes. “Our players, battling homelessness, have joined our team and decided to change their lives. They all deserve to wear the number 10. Now we need you to be a number 10 by making a contribution of $10 or more so that we can realize their dream of competing in the Homeless World Cup. 10 dollars, 1,000 people, 10,000 miles to Milan. That’s a dollar a mile.”

So far, the campaign has raised more than $1,200.

Contact Cann: lawrence@streetsoccerusa.org

==More on how soccer empowers the homeless, on the blog of CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta (linked here).

== Another story about how a running program called Back on Your Feet fits into this whole competition nurturing (linked here).

== Watch this video, “Love In The Streets” (linked here)

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And, for what it’s worth, this is something I scribbled on the back of manilla envelope as I was riding on the Metro Green Line, after having visited a church in Watts to help out with a program that feeds and clothes the needy and homeless of that community:

It’s the smell of homelessness that really smacks you in the face with a potent punch, stings hardest, and lingers the longest.

The sight of it, we may almost be desensatized to it. It’s a commercial on TV promoting a non-profit that sends aid overseas. A person standing on a freeway offramp with a simple sign: “Please Help, Need Food,” and we drive right past.

The sound of it blends in with the rest of the landscape. The shopping cart wheel rattling against the pavement, full of whatever necessities the person can push around town. The polite request of someone asking, “Sir, can you spare a dollar … God bless.” It can also be the nonsensical blathering of a mentally ill person, talking to himself, angrily, as he walks from nowhere to noplace.

The touch of it — yes, homelessness is tangible. You make contact with someone, maybe by accident, as you pass by them. Maybe you shake their hand, or are brave enough to give them a hug. You are touched — deep inside — by their plight. It can touch you profoundly.

But that smell …

On a hot summer day in Watts, the stank of urine from the bushes next to the shopping center hits the nose like a powerful spray of a skunk. It mixes with sweat, grime, grit. Old shoes and stained clothes. In the people swimming in it, you can smell the desperation with the perspiration. Some try to cover it up with cheap collogne or perfume.

Still, do they live with the smell?

Maybe that’s the signal of the long-term effect of homelessness. It really and truly stinks. Everything about it stinks, enough to make one sick to their stomach.

Our problems, Dorothy Day once said, stem from our acceptance of the filthy, rotten system.

This is clearly evident walking these streets, from the church hall, about a half mile to the public transportation platform.

If you close your eyes, you no longer have to see homelessness’ hopeless stares.

If you stick an iPod chord in your ears, you no longer have to hear the cries.

If you sit alone, or slide away on the train bench, you don’t have to touch it.

But nothing takes away the smell. The filthy, rotten smell.

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