Street Soccer: It W.O.R.K.S.

Alan Bates shares the importance of Vancouver Street Soccer

As a resident doctor in psychiatry at St. Paul’s Hospital, I’ve worked with a lot of people affected by homelessness. Absent or inadequate housing is often one of the stresses that leads to people with addictions and mental illness ending up in the Emergency Department. And then, just like those people struggled to find good housing before coming to the hospital, we often have trouble finding them good housing before they leave. It can be harder to “treat” the housing than to treat the acute illness!

I’ve played soccer all my life and always loved it, so when I saw a post about “homeless soccer” on Facebook in 2008, I knew that in the very least it would be fun. I think that’s a big reason why Street Soccer works. It’s fun to be one of the players and it’s fun to volunteer. My year volunteering with the Vancouver Dream Catchers included giving some Whitecaps FC Alumni more of a challenge than they were expecting and winning the National Street Soccer Championship in Calgary, beating Toronto on penalties in the final.

A big part of our local success is that we’ve been able to tap into Street Soccer Canada’s participation in the Homeless World Cup. Coaching a team of guys from Vancouver at the 2010 Homeless World Cup in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had. From walking off the pitch after a match with proud smiles on their faces to erupting into furious celebration with each hard-fought victory, the players have provided moments that I’ll never forget and that I know have built confidence and character within them.

Since our trip to Brazil, I’ve led the expansion of the Vancouver Street Soccer League to nine teams, including Canada’s first women’s Street Soccer team that went on to play at the 2011 Homeless World Cup in Paris, France. In addition to regular tournaments and practices, we’ve played with Mayor Gregor Robertson, the Vancouver Police, some Whitecaps FC players, and even NBA star Metta World Peace. One of our longtime players and I were selected to be part of the 2010 Olympic Torch Relay and another one of our players just completed the Vancouver Marathon. All of these things have brought significant media attention to the issue of homelessness. Soccer is a bridge that allows people to identify with our players through sharing the delights of the beautiful game.

Our research shows that Street Soccer leads to improvements in housing, number of friends, confidence, health, employment and medical supports, and reductions in drug use and contacts with police. We need to keep our teams thriving with uniforms, equipment, fields to play on and the ability to support players lucky enough to be selected for Team Canada. Please take some time to become part of our team by voting for us at http://www.mlssoccer.com/mlsworks/community-mvp/vote . You can vote as many times as you want, so we really appreciate the seconds, minutes, or hours you put into it!