We don’t always run the “best” parts of town.
Though, ask my running group, and they’d tell you that the whole city is the best: from the history of the “Over the Rhine” districts, to the overlooks beyond, to the downtown high rises, to the sights across the river in Kentucky (where we tend to start most of our runs anyway).
Some parts of our normal route have a bad rep, all too truly earned of late. The rise in violence and shootings or attacks on the streets has even begun to reroute our haphazard loops through those areas… But it hasn’t stopped us running there.
Over the years of us racing, training, hill climbing, and sight-seeing the area we’ve felt the people living there welcoming us. From sleepy well wishes of “good morning” to jogging beside us and cheering and clapping. We took to the streets there and the people on them love us. As a sociologist I have often remarked on the welcoming and supportive nature of communities that have less, hurt more, but still value neighbors and being “close-nit”, supportive. And that kindness inherent in them extends to everyone who comes through the community and means no harm.
We didn’t see the violence we knew was there. But we did see the “invisible and forgotten”… The ignored.
Every place has its share of down-trodden or broken people…. Its share of folk who just ran out of luck, saw too much hatred and death, got too addicted, or lost something important (a job, a loved one, their mind).
Each morning throughout the year the running group would silently plod past figures huddled asleep in doorways.
The year we made an impact, 2013:
It was a bitter winter when Cincinnati’s unofficially official, “mayor of running”, and one of the founding members of the running group, asked us all, “how can we help?” It was after a particularly cold run. Icicles dangled from beards and eyelashes, and we huddled over our coffees, desperately trying to get our fingers and toes to warm up. The temps had dipped below zero, even after the sun was up.
It was gut-wrenching and almost criminal that people were bundled up and tucking into corners, trying to survive this cold world, yet they always rose a cheerful, “Hallo” to us as we ran past. They cheered and were joyous to see us out. They commiserated happily about the frost with us as we huddled at crosswalks, our run paused for traffic.
The Mayor’s simple question, “what can we do?” Coming at the tail end of our conversation about exactly how cold it was, and would continue to be. “Imagine, all those people we’re running past…. They’re stuck out in that.” He mused.
The sad fact is that there are limitations to how many nights a person gets a bed in a shelter. There is limited space, all around. More homeless than shelter space means someone will sleep under the stars… And likely die of exposure, if not careful. Some people would rather be out… Some feel safer staying out of the shelters. Some won’t qualify to get in to start with.
For Cincinnati, approximately 25,000 people experience homelessness each year. 12% report domestic violence as the reason (cincihomeless.org). Homeless doesnt mean unemployed. 60% men and 45% of homeless women work. One quarter of the homeless population are children. In ohio, the minimum wage today is 10 cents lower than it was in 1979. Affordable housing costs have gone up while minimum incomes have stalled out – this is believed to be a main contributer to homelessness
Back at the coffee shop, the Mayor’s musings started the ideas rolling… And then the “giving run” was developed.
Today marks our third year.
Christmas Eve morning the group gathered with donated goods – mostly snacks, clothing, and hygiene items- and we ran before anyone was awake. Tucking our care packages beside sleeping figures and handing them to the ones waiting to get into a shower house or free food locale.
It was moving.
But, mostly, it was humbling.
We are all one bad week, one bad month, or one life event away from loosing our worldly possessions.
It is said that one should pay attention to how someone treats those around them that can do nothing for them.
My running group is made up of the best people possible, and I am always so proud of them. It is a great thing that they give to the community they run in. That they inspire greatness and community care in others – runners and non-runners alike.
Pain by Numbers runners are the best people out there. And I count myself so very lucky to know them and call them friends.
Merry Christmas all of you. And well done.
Thanks to Christina L. For the use of her photos in this post.
We teamed specifically with established charity and homelessness awareness groups to determine best practices for what to donate and how to approach people.
We consult with and utilize police officers in the group to help ensure the safety of everyone involved.
At all times the group was aware of their surroundings and acted as safeties for each other.
That said, our group did a wonderful thing for a collection of people who could use some kindness and good deeds pointed their way. Its not the overall answer, but it is kindness, and we all need kindness to create hope. Hope is a gift that lasts.