On the morning of October 2nd, runners stretched out on the sidewalk outside Johnny D’s Restaurant, all the way to the Davis Square T station in anticipation of the 15th Annual Somerville Homeless Coalition 5k. The weather was sunny and breezy and spirits were high as runners were called to the starting line. After grabbing their T shirts and pinning on numbers, all 1,111 racers dashed out of Davis Square and tried their best to outrun their neighbors all the way to the finish, just past the end of the bike path.
According to Mark Alston-Follansbee, Executive Director of the Somerville Homeless Coalition (SHC), the race is one of the organization’s two biggest fundraisers. This year, the event brought in $34,000 that will be used to fund the shelters, affordable housing, support services and homeless prevention programs that the Coalition provides. “Somerville is a community that does care, and makes it possible to do what we do,” said Alston-Follansbee.
This year’s winners were Robert Espinosa, with a time of 15:59, and Rachel Shanley, with a time of 18:13. Prizes were also awarded to winners in different age groups and even weight groups. Men over 190 lbs and women over 140 lbs could opt to register as “Clydesdales” and “Fillys” if they chose. Other runners pushed baby strollers or were affiliated with local running clubs, such as the Somerville Road Runners.
One unique running club competed in the SHC 5k for the first time this year. Back On My Feet, an organization started in Philadelphia, sent 15 of its runners from the new Boston chapter to the race. The organization starts running clubs in homeless shelters, assigning experienced runners to help homeless individuals train as distance runners. As stated on the Back on My Feet website, the organization “consists of much more than just running: our members participate in a comprehensive program that offers connections to job training, employment and housing. Those benefits are earned by maintaining 90 percent attendance at the morning runs three days a week for our six to nine month program.”
After the race, a brunch was provided by local restaurants that included sausages from Redbones, burritos from Anna’s Taqueria, and eggs from Johnny D’s. According to Alston-Follansbee, community support has been very strong and consistent over the years. “Nonprofits have struggled in the recession but folks realize we really are the safety net, we run the food pantry and we are sheltering people so I feel very fortunate that we have met our goals in the past two years,” he said.
The SHC website explains that the Somerville Homeless Coalition was created in 1985 by the local community’s grassroots response to the social crisis of homelessness. Neighbors, community activists, university students, faith-based leaders, business supporters and city officials united to address the escalating problem of homelessness within Somerville. “In some ways, compared to Boston, we are lucky because the problem is smaller. But the reality is that homeless men, women and families don’t think of geographic boundaries, they go where they can get the most help.”