Thursday, December 4, 2008

Oscar the homeless soccer globetrotter

Unlike almost every other homeless person who lives in St. Louis, Oscar Grandberry is in Melbourne, Australia today. He is there competing in the 6th Homeless World Cup as a member of Team USA.

The Homeless World Cup is an annual, international street soccer tournament, uniting teams of people who are homeless. It has triggered and supports grassroots soccer projects in over 60 nations working with over 25,000 homeless people.

Keith Deisner at Peter & Paul Community Services told me today that Team USA was not faring too well, with a record of 2 wins and 4 losses, having been outscored 40 to 22 in those six matches.

Team USA had beat France (4-3) and Cambodia (6-5), while suffering losses to Ireland (11-2), Romania (7-2), Hong Kong (5-4), Argentina (9-4). On Friday our guys play India and New Zealand.

According to Street Soccer USA, Oscar came to St. Louis from Louisiana after a divorce. After a year on the streets, "of bad luck and brooding," he started getting meals at the Peter and Paul Community Service Center, where he was asked to join the soccer team.

After making the national pool at the Homeless USA Cup in Washington, D.C., Oscar felt renewed hope and determination to get off the street. When he got back, however, his car had been stolen. He spent the summer "sleeping in the rough." Now he rents his own loft in Downtown and hopes to become a cook in the restaurant where he has worked since August.

I take it from this account that to qualify as "homeless" for the Homeless World Cup you have to have started out homeless, but if you shape up and get your own place they don't kick you off the team. In fact, organizers report that 73 percent of players change their lives for the better by coming off drugs and alcohol, moving into jobs, education, homes and training and reuniting with families.

Former Homeless Cup players, we are told, have gone on to become players and coaches for pro or semi-pro football teams.

I'll be talking to Oscar when he gets back for a story in The St. Louis American.

More Homeless World Cup stuff:

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