LA’s Skid Row run­ners find a ‘home’ in jog­ging team

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Dawn is break­ing over down­town Los Angeles as a small group of men and women set off on a six-mile run from Skid Row, the epi­cen­ter of the city’s home­less­ness cri­sis. They are part of the Mid­night Run­ners, an un­usual run­ning team made up mostly of re­cov­er­ing ad­dicts and home­less peo­ple seek­ing a new lease on life. As they jog past an apoc­a­lyp­tic scene of side­walks lined with tents, card­board boxes and makeshift tarps, many in the group know they could eas­ily be among the thou­sands who call th­ese streets “home.”

“It’s a wake-up call ev­ery time I walk out here of where my life could go if I keep mak­ing bad choices,” says Ken­neth Collins, 35, one of the lat­est mem­bers of the team, who is a re­cov­er­ing drug ad­dict and has been home­less on and off for the past 16 years. Ac­cord­ing to the Los Angeles Home­less Ser­vices Author­ity, there are some 47,000 home­less peo­ple in and around Los Angeles. An es­ti­mated 6,000 live in Skid Row, a sprawl­ing 50-block area that has the high­est con­cen­tra­tion of home­less peo­ple in the coun­try.

Like sev­eral of his run­ning mates, Collins lives at the Mid­night Mis­sion, a shelter and ad­dic­tion cen­ter right in the mid­dle of Skid Row. The run­ning club of­fers its mem­bers a ther­a­peu­tic out­let as they bat­tle to over­come years of ad­dic­tion to drugs or al­co­hol as well as home­less­ness. The brains be­hind the project is a Los Angeles judge, Craig Mitchell, an avid jog­ger who spends his days on the bench over­see­ing mur­der, rape and other felony cases.

Mitchell says he came up with the idea af­ter a man he had sen­tenced to prison reached out to him while on pa­role and in­vited him to visit the Mid­night Mis­sion. “He found his way back to my court­room and asked me to come down to the Mis­sion to meet the peo­ple in­volved in his re­cov­ery,” said the 60-year-old judge, sit­ting in his court cham­bers wear­ing a dress shirt, shorts and run­ning shoes.

Run­ning with a judge

“It was com­pletely hap­pen­stance. I was put on the spot on how I could help and I said, ‘How about a run­ning club.’” Five years later, the club has be­come a main­stay at­tract­ing more and more run­ners who have par­tic­i­pated in marathons across the globe, from Ghana, to Italy and, most re­cently this past sum­mer, Viet­nam.

“I would have never dreamt... that I would one day be run­ning a marathon in Viet­nam and with, of all peo­ple, a judge,” said David Nor­iega, who joined the team last year as he fought drug ad­dic­tion that led to a life of crime, home­less­ness and a to­tal 13 years be­hind bars.

“I mean, I’m an ex-con, and I’m run­ning with a judge who han­dles crim­i­nal cases,” added the 50year-old fa­ther of four, his eyes of­ten welling with tears as he told his story. “And when I came back from Viet­nam in the sum­mer, my kids were no longer ashamed to call me their fa­ther.” Af­ter run­ning in the Los Angeles marathon this com­ing March, next on the bucket list of the Mid­night Run­ners will be a marathon in Jerusalem in 2018.

‘Some­one who cares enough’

The over­seas trips-which can run into the tens of thou­sands of dol­lars are funded by do­na­tions and by the judge him­self who doesn’t hes­i­tate to foot the bill when it comes to buy­ing run­ning shoes for the 20 to 25 peo­ple on the team. Mitchell said while he is con­sid­ered a men­tor by many of the run­ner­swho also in­clude a pros­e­cu­tor, a crim­i­nal at­tor­ney and a movie ex­ec­u­tive-he has found they bring much mean­ing to his life.

“Th­ese are peo­ple I ex­pect to be my friends for the rest of my life,” he said. “The nicest thing is when some­one will give me a hug and they’ll say what I hear far too in­fre­quently from my own chil­dren’You know Judge Mitchell, I re­ally love you.’“It doesn’t get much bet­ter than that.” — AFP

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