The Homelessness Marathon was founded in 1998 by Jeremy Weir Alderson (aka "Nobody") as an offshoot of his regular radio program, "The Nobody Show," broadcast weekly on WEOS, an NPR-affiliate in Geneva, NY. "That first year, I was just thinking of it as a matter of conscience," Alderson says. "Basically, I just wanted to get on the air and say, 'This isn't right, and I want no part of it,' and, of course, I wanted to bolster this argument with the opinions of experts and the voices of homeless people." He got the idea of broadcasting from outdoors in the dead of winter, he says, because he wanted to dramatize the plight of people with nowhere to go in the cold. And the marathon has been broadcast from outdoors ever since, even though other things about it have changed.
"By the time I broadcast that first marathon, I'd already been on the air for six years, so I had a pretty good idea of how my audience responded to issues. But the response to the marathon was something different altogether. Throughout the night, people brought me coffee without my having said a word, and in the morning, people dug into their pockets and gave me crumpled up bills to help defray my expenses, even though, as a matter of policy, the marathon doesn't solicit money even for itself, because we really want people to understand that ending homelessness isn't a matter of charity but a matter of changing the way our society is structured.
"Anyway, that first year opened my eyes, so I got the idea to put the marathon up on the NPR satellite and make it available to a broader audience. The second year we were on seven stations, I think, and the next year we were on 23. The fourth was on 35, and the fifth was on over 50. As the marathon has grown, its philosophy has evolved. I used to think I had to scold people and tell them why they ought to care, but now I know that people really do care, and that homeless people aren't on the streets because that's where Americans want them to be. So I've backed off a lot, and I now mostly look at the marathon as giving people the reasons for what they already know in their hearts."
Over the years, the marathon has become something more than just a broadcast. Dozens of people, affiliated with organizations or just acting on their own, contribute their time (no one on the marathon staff gets paid) to help get the show on the air. And each year the broadcast has been associated with small marches and candlelight vigils around the country. "I'm not kidding myself that just the marathon is going to change the world," Alderson says, "but that's the goal, to create a world where the marathon will be obsolete, because there won't be any more homeless people.
"You know, I hate it when every now and then someone compares me to Jerry Lewis, because we both do these long, cause-related broadcasts. But there's one way I'll accept it. We're not just trying to make a statement anymore. We're looking for the cure."
Web site: www.ckut.ca/homeless.html
Awarded $2,000 - February 2005