Canadian homeless connect through radio

CFRC hosts 17th annual Homelessness Marathon, sharing stories of homeless people nationwide

CFRC’s booth outside St. Andrew’s Church.
Image by: Alex Pickering
CFRC’s booth outside St. Andrew’s Church.

Over the course of 15 hours, CFRC played host to the stories of homeless people from across Canada, taking their experiences and broadcasting them from Kingston to a national audience in a quest to raise awareness.

Kingston became the third Canadian city to host the annual Homelessness Marathon from 4 p.m. on Feb. 25 to 7 a.m. on Feb. 26.

The initiative, a 15-hour radio broadcast aimed at raising awareness of homelessness and poverty, began in Geneva, New York in 1998. It made its way to Canada in 2003, originally hosted by Montreal radio station CKUT 90.3fm.

The marathon was hosted by CKUT every year since its Canadian debut until last year, when it was hosted by CJSR 88.5fm in Edmonton.

This year, CFRC got its opportunity to host the program.

This year, 14 stations across six provinces took part in the 15-hour broadcast. The marathon kicked off at 4 p.m. with a live open mic from Martha’s Table, a non-profit, charitable organization that provides low-cost nutritious meals to those in need in Kingston.

Homeless people were encouraged to share their thoughts and experiences with poverty and homelessness, as stations from across the country broadcast stories and experiences of homelessness in their cities.

CFRC Spoken Word and Special Programming Coordinator Brenna Owen said the marathon is an opportunity to raise voices of those who experience poverty, lack of support and homelessness in Kingston and nationwide.

“When folks come to Kingston, they aren’t familiar with the features of the community and maybe it takes them a while to notice that we have homelessness,” Owen said, adding that Kingston has a particularly high rate of youth and women who experience homelessness.

A point-in-time count in Oct. 2013 found that 52 per cent of homeless people in Kingston counted that day were women. The nationwide average is 25-35 per cent.

At 7 p.m., the broadcast moved to St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, where the Kingston Street Mission provides meals and shelter for those in need. CFRC and interfaith students from Queen’s served meals.

“The aim of the marathon is to create linkages between Canadian communities,” Owen said, adding that there’s a focus on “how different communities with different demographics … experience homelessness differently, and how different municipalities respond”.

The Kingston Street Mission stayed open past its usual midnight closure, hosting the broadcast until 6 a.m.

Mayor Bryan Paterson showed his support for the initiative at Wednesday night’s broadcast from St. Andrew’s.

“Where we can find the support services, where we can open up our doors, where we can reach out to those in need — I think that’s what we need to do, that’s what a smart and caring city does,” Paterson said.

Affordable housing has always been a priority issue for City Council in the past, he said. It was also a topic in the October municipal election.

“It’s a priority of this Council as well,” he added.

“We’re going to be putting money towards it, looking for ways that we can partner with the private sector to build more units so that people don’t end up on the streets, so that they have options.”

Paterson also spoke of a new model for dealing with the issue of chronic homelessness called Housing First, which was developed in Los Angeles in 1988 and is in operation in a number of cities across Canada. The program prioritizes getting people off the streets into affordable housing with no obligation to enter substance abuse treatment. Housing First is part of Kingston’s 10-Year Housing & Homelessness Plan, which aims to end chronic homelessness in Kingston and Frontenac County by 2023.

“We actually believe that it’s possible to end homelessness, but we’re putting those investments and the support structure in place to be able to do that,” Paterson said.

Vicky MacMunn and Ron Nelson, members of the Kingston Coalition Against Poverty, were also in attendance last night. They said they’re trying to create a presence for the organization in the Kingston community.

“We’re also trying to dive in and actually help, not just create awareness,” MacMunn said.

The organization has been collecting Tim Hortons’ Roll Up the Rim prizes as donations that they plan to deliver to homeless individuals in need of something warm to drink.

The two also shared concerns that spread beyond just the Kingston community, relating to homelessness province-wide.

Nelson said he’s worried that, as she tries to balance the budget, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne will try to make a push for austerity measures similar to those that have left hundreds of thousands homeless and unsupported in the UK.

“If they do that, there’s not going to be 100,000 homeless — there’s going to be two million homeless,” he said.


CFRC, Homelessness, Homelessness Marathon

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