When Tom Maxwell first walked into Kelowna’s Gospel Mission—a soccer ball in his hand—he felt like any other pedestrian entering a foreign building.
He was nervous and apprehensive and wasn’t sure what to expect from the Kelowna shelter, a gathering place for many of Kelowna’s homeless.
“It was daunting,” he admitted. “I didn’t know how they were going to react. But now I walk in there and it’s an easy place to go into. I know a lot of people won’t even drive by the Gospel Mission. But no one hastles you. Everyone there is just trying to eat and get out of the cold and chat.”
Maxwell was carrying the soccer ball for a reason. He was hoping to start a street soccer program in Kelowna as part of a growing world-wide movement to use the world’s most popular sport as a way to fight homelessness.
And he’s found success. For the past year Maxwell has been getting together with some core members of Kelowna’s homeless community, practicing once a week and even playing in an indoor soccer league at Kelowna’s Sunplex facility downtown.
Maxwell was inspired by the worldwide street soccer movement which has been taking place for the past 10 years.
“When we moved to Kelowna my wife and I noticed there were quite a few homeless guys in the downtown core,” he said. “I thought ‘here is my opportunity to help.’ I contacted the shelters and the city and the regional district and then one day I turned up at the shelter with a ball and said ‘who wants to play.'”
And so the Kelowna Kodiaks were born.
Over the ensuing year Maxwell has worked with different homeless soccer players and is now aiming to take his team to another level. Coming up in June there will be a national street soccer event in Vancouver. From there players from those teams could be selected to attend the Homeless World Cup (www.homelessworldcup.org) in Paris, France in August as part of Team Canada.
“It’s not a selection based on skill,” explained Maxwell. “They are looking for commitment to the team and practice, spirit, attitude and also they are looking to see who will benefit the most from going to the Homeless World Cup.”
Street soccer has had many successes. Perhaps the biggest was when famed football club Manchester United paid millions to sign a street soccer star named Bebe. But in Kelowna Maxwell is happy with the benefits that his players are getting from enjoying the sport.
“We noticed with a few of the guys that they were very quiet and didn’t say much at the start,” said Maxwell. “Now they are laughing and telling us about their lives. I think it’s important for these guys to have someone to talk to. Participating in sports and being part of a team normalizes their situation. We want people to recognize these guys are just as normal as us. There is nothing different about them except they don’t have a home.”
The Kelowna Kodiaks practice every Thursday at City Park beginning at 5:30 p.m.
Taking Kelowna’s street soccer team on the road is a costly endeavour.
To help, the Chippy Winger Pub inside Kelowna’s Sunplex is hosting a fundraising event for May 26th.
The event is to help offset the travel expenses for the Kelowna Kodiaks street soccer team to travel to Vancouver for a qualifying tournament. If chosen the team or team members will travel back east to try and qualify for the Canadian Homeless World Cup Team, which will the travel to Paris, France for the Homeless World Cup Tournment this August.
The street soccer program is aimed directly at people who have lived on the streets and in shelters. Last year there were 64 teams entered in the Homeless World Cup Tournament, representing 53 Countries.
To help the Kodiaks travel to the Western Selection Tournament in Vancouver on June 4 and 5, the fundraiser at the Chippy Winger Pub will take place May 26 starting at 6:30 p.m.
Entertainer Papa Thom will be providing live music and there will be raffle prizes, a 50-50 and other draws.
The Chippy Winger Pub is located inside the Sunplex Arena on Ellis Street in downtown Kelowna.
For more information contact Tom at firstname.lastname@example.org or check the team’s web site at www.kelownastreetsoccer.yolasite.com.