Members of On My Feet participate in a weekly training run session. Image – supplied.
By Kate Dzienis
Running transforms people, and if you haven’t been transformed or impacted in one way or another, whether on a large or small scale, then there’s something wrong with you.
There are countless, in fact thousands upon thousands of stories written and told all over the world about how running helps break physical barriers, helps people lose weight or gain strength, assists in beating depression or increasing self-confidence, and spreading messages of awareness and fundraising.
Now meet Perth’s Keegan Crage who transforms the lives of homeless people through running.
I’m hearing some virtual pennies drop on the pavement, surrounded with the question, ‘Well, exactly how’s that?’
Let’s start from the beginning.
Australia’s homeless population can fill up the entirety of the Melbourne Cricket Ground, and it can become a financial strain on the economy, with each homeless person costing the government $45,000 per annum.
Crage, an avid runner, was in training for a marathon in recent years but it become a common sight for him to spot homeless people on the streets of Perth.
The question repeating in his mind was clear as a cloudless sky – ‘if I feel this good from running, why can’t they?’
A fire was suddenly lit, and Crage found himself heading into the local shelters at breakfast time to sit and talk to some of the less fortunate, negotiating that if they ran with him in an effort to create self-worth and self-respect, Crage would assist them in finding pathways to education, employment and self-sufficiency.
And so his not-for-profit On My Feet was born.
“Running is an incredible thing, it’s not only enjoyable but it gives you the ability to demonstrate the amazing abilities of determination, discipline, commitment, perseverance and resistance,” he explains.
“These are all attributes employers look for in potential employees, and the reality is, that a majority of these (homeless) people go to get jobs but because they don’t have the skills or experience against all the CVs on the table, they don’t even get a look in.
“What I’ve said to employers is, ‘if I can show you these people who have all these attributes by virtue of the fact they’ve committed to running with us, will you at least give them an opportunity for work experience?’
“That was my starting point.”
Keegan Crage with a delivery of 110 sponsored running shoes from Wiggle in September, 2015. Image – supplied.
Crage has always been of the view that he was helping deal with homelessness by providing a hand up, never a hand out – he always made it clear he was never there to give out shelter, food or money, but rather something much more valuable and lifelong.
“More than all of that, this is a way of them being a part of something and integrating with society, because don’t we all want to feel included and important?” he asks.
Growing over time with the involvement of more and more homeless people, On My Feet invites those at-risk to participate in Monday, Wednesday and Friday night running sessions across Perth, Fremantle, Rockingham and now Melbourne, Vic as well as Cape Town, South Africa, and provides them with a t-shirt, shorts, socks and shoes.
Once participants have signed a Commitment Contract and Personal Goals Statement, they are encouraged to aim for a target event such as a 5kms fun run; then after one month and a 90 per cent attendance rate, they can move on to what Crage calls the Independence Plan, whereby members develop skills through training and education to give them a better chance at interviews and seek employment opportunities through On My Feet select partners.
“Running is such a powerful tool, it’s an equaliser,” Crage reveals.
“There are three levels of homelessness – primary, secondary and tertiary; primary are those who are literally on the streets, under the trees, on the benches.
“We’ve had some of those primary homeless attend our program, but they are a very, very small percentage because fundamentally they have a number of other basic needs they need to address before getting ‘on their feet’ so to speak.
“All of them also have mental health issues, alcohol and/or drug addiction so those are factors they as individuals must take care of.
“Hence why On My Feet assists primarily those in the secondary (those who are in a shelter or refuge on a temporary basis) and tertiary (those in a public housing arrangement) categories.”
It is these two groups of homelessness that are well placed to attend and commit to running and develop a routine to that regularity, giving them stability and the ability to think seriously about the next step in their lives.
However Crage explains it’s difficult to measure On My Feet’s success rate.
“If it’s around jobs and education, not as high as we would have liked,” he says.
“Out of the hundred who have run with us, we’ve covered a total of more than 3,500kms and of that group we’ve probably had about a dozen who have gone into education programs and maybe eight or nine who have managed to get some form of work experience.
“If we’re talking about improved physical and mental health, both which are difficult to measure, than by virtue we see them losing weight and choosing not to take drugs or alcohol, and from that perspective although intangible, there has been a dramatic improvement to a number of people and that has been the most rewarding part.
“We’ve had a humbling amount of participants recount stories of being tempted (to take drugs or alcohol) under whatever circumstances and then proudly standing up and saying no, that they made a commitment to succeed and that was what they intended to do.”
For more information about On My Feet, to put your hand up as a volunteer, or to make a donation go to www.onmyfeet.org.au.
Runglobal Australia gives a virtual high-five to all participants and volunteers of On My Feet.