On a sunny Saturday in early September, it’s easy for most of us to put aside household chores and things that would keep us indoors. Summer is short in Calgary and winter long, it’s important not to waste a day of fine weather!
Unless you’re homeless and spend much of your time within the four walls of a homeless shelter. Then, the call of the great outdoors is not as enticing. Trapped in this place of no fixed address where the very place that protects you can also keep you feeling trapped, getting out to enjoy the sunshine is not that easy.
Just ask Simon*, a veteran of street life who has spent what he calls too many years lost in homeless. “It gets kinda depressing sitting there all day,” he said as he stood on the sidelines watching the play. He had no other plans for the day when Billy Pagonis, head coach of Canada’s men’s and women’s street soccer team who are headed for Santiago Chile this October to play in the Homeless World Cup sat down at his table to chat. “He said ‘you don’t have to play. Just come and watch. We’ve got a bbq, ice cream, music. You can sit here and watch four walls or you can come and sit outside.’ I figured I may as well. I wasn’t doing anything else.”
Billy knows street life. Once a professional soccer player, Billy spent eight years fighting addictions, depression and homelessness after retiring from the field at the age of 35. He knows the talk and he walks the walk.
Once upon a time, soccer gave Billy a road out of homelessness. It gave him purpose, direction, hope.
Now, Billy shares his love of the game, and his belief in what is possible when you give someone experiencing homelessness a pair of cleats, a uniform and a wide open field to play on with men and women trapped in homelessness across Canada.
“The goal is to get them out, to get them to feel better about themselves,” he says as he oversees almost 40 participants who came to watch and got engaged in kicking the ball towards the goal posts on two separate fields on Saturday at Calgary Street Hockey Day in Bridgeland. “They build confidence. Get better friends, reconnect with family members. And this works. By the end of the day, they’re not going to feel so bad about themselves.”
And it worked. At the end of the day, after the bbq, the friendship, the camaraderie of playing a game together, it happened just as Billy knew it would. “You come, your head is down. At the end of the day, your head is up, you smile. Your voice begins to become stronger when you speak. It’s not about soccer. It’s about dignity. And this helps build it.”
Huge kudos to the organizers of Calgary Street Soccer Day and to everyone who came out to support the event and to play the game.
*not his real name