Lawrence Cann, activist for the homeless
Lawrence Cann, activist for the homeless

The United Nations estimates that more than 100 million people are homeless worldwide.  And another one billion people lack adequate housing.  Here in the United States, two to three million people [less than one percent of the population] have not had a home for more than a year. VOA's Sean Maroney reports on how one U.S. citizen is making a difference by turning his lifelong love for soccer [football] into a way to get people off the streets.

Two teams of four players each, including goalkeepers, battle over a small, red-and-white soccer ball in the muggy Washington, D.C. summer.   More than 100 players of differing backgrounds are here from many U.S. cities.  They all share one trait:  they have all been homeless.

Lawrence Cann brought these players together to compete in the Homeless USA Cup.

Volunteers at homeless shelters, drug treatment programs and community centers work with and train the players throughout the year.  Nearly 50 other countries have similar programs.  All of the teams are expected to compete in December at the Homeless World Cup in Australia.

Cann, who works at an urban outreach center in [the eastern U.S. state of] North Carolina, says it was an easy decision to start the U.S. program.

"It just happens I played soccer my whole life," he says.  "I went to school to play soccer.  I'm passionate about it.  And I transitioned all that energy in my life about soccer into the World Cup."

Four years ago, Lawrence Cann founded the non-profit group Street Soccer USA as a different type of homeless outreach.

"Typically in homeless services someone is 'out of sight, out of mind' [they are easily forgotten].  They get a little bit not homeless [they find minimal and often temporary housing], then we [typically, homeless aid agencies] focus on the next guy.  Because we [Street Soccer USA] build relationships with people, once they get off the street, we follow up that relationship.  They stay involved and hopefully it keeps them off the street longer and permanently," Cann explains.

Cann says his program helps to break homeless stereotypes.

"No one chooses to be homeless," he notes.  "Homelessness is a social issue and we all have a responsibility for it. And so, if we start looking at each other as human beings, that can be the foundation for creating the programs and social structure that will help people get out of homelessness."

Of the 700 or so homeless men and women on the soccer fields this year, Cann says about 75 percent will make postive changes.  He says many will further their education or get a steady job.

Lawrence Cann's goal is to get 10,000 homeless people involved in the program during the next five years.