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Back on My Feet — a new program for inspiring the city's homeless

Sat, 14 Jan 2017 19:48:00
4.5 / 5 (5 Votes)
Article by:
Jeffery Mendenhall
Team spirit expressed by interlocking hands. Photo courtesy of Executive Director Linda Glassel of Back on My Feet San Francisco.
A select group of those who have called the streets of San Francisco their home are waking up with renewed hope and a fresh outlook.
Since November 30, 2016, these road warriors have battled the cold early mornings three days a week, alongside a band of enthusiastic volunteer runners from the community, in their quest to outrun their life on the streets.
These individuals are now entering into the “Next Steps” phase of the newly established San Francisco chapter of  Back on My Feet — a phase that focuses on providing educational support, job training, employment referrals, and housing resources.
Back on My Feet is a national nonprofit that aims to combat homelessness through a running-based restorative model. This model paves the way to establishing new lives through employment and housing.
The organization enlists several homeless shelters to refer interested participants committed to running three days a week — Monday, Wednesday, and Friday — at 5:30 a.m. Those who meet a 90% attendance threshold the first month move on to “Next Steps.”
The shelters partnering with Back on My Feet in San Francisco include Larkin Street Youth Services, Hospitality House, and Cityteam.  Individuals who are selected into the program take part in one of three running groups that assemble near these shelters.
Program Director Cricket Miller works closely with the shelter facilities and their staff.
“They (the shelter facilities and their staff) are the front line and know the potential members better than most,” Miller said. “I have been in the shelters 2?3 times a week since the partnerships have been made. The staff can help in many ways.”
Selection becomes an option to those in the later stages of the Cityteam’s live-in recovery program, and specifically for those individuals who have gained a certain level of autonomy, according to Cityteam Director Eric Venable. The other partnering shelters follow similar standards.
“Back on My Feet and our program work like hands and gloves,” Venable said. “It streamlines our own process of live-in recovery. It turbocharges our mentorship capacity. It gives our guys more on-ramps to skill building. It also gives them a sense of control. They get ownership in the process.”
The San Francisco Chapter of Back on My Feet is the twelfth in the nation. It is also the newest. The initiative to bring Back on My Feet to San Francisco began in January of 2016 by CEO Katy Sherratt.
Sherratt summed up the importance of the nonprofit’s launch on November 18 in San Francisco.
“Homelessness is a critical societal issue that is alarmingly prevalent in San Francisco,” Sherratt said. “Our goal is to enable positive change in the community and to have a major impact on the lives of those experiencing homelessness in San Francisco. We are eager to join the San Francisco community in helping to tackle one of the city’s most pressing challenges.”
Miller delved into some of the critical issues Back on My Feet aims to bridge. “Through my experiences of working with the homeless population, I have learned that being homeless is much more than not having a home,” Miller said. “It is a lack of sense of stability and community as well. Back on My Feet provides members and volunteers with an opportunity to bridge the gap, while engaging in a healthy activity.”
Back on My Feet’s official launch coincided with National Hunger and Homelessness Week, November 12?20. Parisoma, a co-working space in the South of Market neighborhood, was the site where approximately 20 runners assembled that Friday at 7 am. Once they formed a circle and began to stretch, the seeds were sown — running rituals binding them through their journey over the weeks and months to follow.
The launch brought in members from each of the three running groups. San Francisco Executive Director Linda Glassel said that the participants were transported from their respective shelters to Parisoma.
“The social interaction and atmosphere is quite situational, you just have to experience it,” Glassel said. “Everyone circles up. It is a key piece to the whole program.”
Glassel said that the volunteer team brings in a host of attributes that participants may not be used to. These attributes include support, camaraderie, and accountability — building a foundation for community that in turn fosters stability.
Miller elaborated on the importance of community and how Back on My Feet bridges the divide.
“We not only utilize running but also the power of community and the support they are able to provide for an individual experiencing homelessness,” Miller said.
“All the feedback that I have received from the members and shelters has been very positive,” Miller said. “They loved the experience of launch week. Many of them have talked about all the encouragement from others, how much they enjoyed meeting all the volunteers, and the ‘Tunnel of Support.’”
Volunteers are asked to commit to at least once a week. Glassel said that those who are interested should be aware of the different physical abilities of those being served by the program. Because of this, runners, joggers, and walkers are sought.
Each volunteer is paired with one person seeking services, and can be expected to go anywhere between one to five miles. This way, volunteers and participants build connections, share conversations, and build trust, according to Glassel
“We aim to keep volunteers with the same program participant,” Glassel said. “It is like having a running partner.”
“The community and camaraderie is really built within each team and every team is different,” Miller said. “As mentioned earlier unique bonds and friendships form between the members and volunteers.

They offer each other encouragement and motivation. That’s something that everyone can use in life.”
The Young Professional Board — YPB — was integral in getting the San Francisco chapter off the ground through outreaching efforts. The board consists of young professionals who are just beginning their careers in various professions. The YPB is tasked with about three volunteerism and fundraising events per year, according to Glassel.
Pete Roller, one of the original members of the YPB, said that Sherratt assembled the board in January. Roller said most of these first members already knew about Back on My Feet. After several successful events, Roller said he has witnessed an increased interest and involvement from the community through volunteerism, a growing number of fellow YPB members, and increased donations.
“Many who came out to our events are now volunteers,” Roller said.
Along with YPB, The San Francisco Advisory Board does much of the same. These board members are well established in their careers, are tasked with Back on My Feet’s strategy, and are expected to have a greater impact with fundraising events and projects.
There has been a multitude of outreach to the community, the establishment of partnerships, fundraisers, and seed funding projects.
Roller credits several efforts to reach individuals who may not be runners themselves in garnering further support. A charity bartending event in August — in which tips went to Back on My Feet — not only raised money, but also increased the volunteer pool. A 2-hour spin class in October at a local fitness center brought in further interest with between 30?40 participants.
Likewise, Back on My Feet periodically involves those they serve with social events outside of the program. Venable said that “the guys gain so much,” including a sense of normality and one on one attention.
One example Venable gave of normalcy and mentorship outside the sphere of running, or the broader program, included the opportunity bestowed upon program participants to attend the Pac-12 Football Championship at Levi’s Stadium on December 2. Venable said that this was a chance for those at Back on My Feet and program participants to deepen their bonds and commitment, as well as to spur new interest from others at the shelter not involved with the program.
Participants receive the gear necessary for them to succeed. Shoes are donated by Fleet Feet. Back on My Feet provides shorts, socks, long-sleeve shirts, and warm-ups with a Back on My Feet logo.
“I visited our partnering shelters on Thanksgiving and saw members in their new shoes and how good they feel in them,” Miller said.
Venable said that many at his shelter not yet involved with the program are taking notice, and seem more apt to join, open up their world, and try something new.
“In recovery, their world can become small,” Venable said. “Do something new, because sometimes the new thing is what you need.”
Miller said she encourages those not yet involved to take that step to recovery.
“Morning runs are early, and if the staff is on board with the program, they too can encourage members to wake up for the runs and get involved,” Miller said. “The case management —CM — staff and I work together to make sure an individual in the “Next Steps” phase sets goals that correlate with the CMs as well. Back on My Feet acts an extra resource for clients within the partnering shelter and should complement their work as well.”
The organization is planning to host its first gala in May 2017. More information can be found on the website at http://sanfrancisco.backonmyfeet.org/.

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