Team 314’s race to end youth homelessness

By Justin Jeffre

On October 12th Team 314 came to Cincinnati on their long journey across the nation and stopped in to the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition. They have been learning from homeless youths and shelters across the nation. Their mission is to raise awareness about youth homelessness so that one day we can end it. They also want homeless youth to know that people care and will fight for them.

On September 15th Jordan Connell and Team 314 began their long and challenging journey in New York City. The rest of the team is his support system and is made up of his mom, sister and 4 very good friends that gave up housing to join him on his journey. Their goal is to be at the Santa Monica Pier by December 31st in order to celebrate New Year’s Eve there.

The trip will take a total of 109 days. Connell plans to run a total of 77 days, resting every Thursday and Sunday. The team has been through Philadelphia, Pittsburg, Columbus, Cincinnati and plans to continue on to Louisville, St. Louis, Union, Kansas City, Wichita, Albuquerque, Phoenix and LA.

Connell’s been running 40 miles a day 5 days a week to both learn and educate people about youth homelessness. He runs at an average speed of 5mph for at least 8 hours a day and sometimes 9 or 10. As he runs they pull 40 miles ahead to find a spot to camp and prepare his meals. His friend Josh rides a scooter to keep an eye on him and make sure he’s OK while running.

His diet consists of mainly raw fruits and vegetables and as many Quinoa combinations as possible. According to his mother, Michelle Bishop, “He needs to consume about 10,000 calories a day because he burns about 7,000 calories a day.”

Connell got the inspiration back in September 2011 while working at the Salvation Youth Camp. Bishop said, “He experienced homelessness as a very young child. I had hoped he wouldn’t have memories of it but he does.”

Connell said one day he ran 6 miles and dreamed up the idea on that run. “I’m running for them so that they don’t have to,” he said. He found a coach to train him to become a long distance runner and began working with a dietitian. He ran his first marathon in September. He felt good after it and decided he would go for his dream so the team hit the road.

Connell came up with the name Team 314 after receiving the number from his first race. It coincidently was the area code of St. Louis where he’s from and the number of a verse in the bible which inspired him.

“Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order to provide for urgent needs and not live unproductive lives.” – Titus 3:14

The team has a van, a scooter and a 24 foot camper they squeeze into. They park in church parking lots and survive off of donations from supporters, churches and other services. “Sometimes we have places to plug into for electricity and sometimes we don’t,” said Bishop.

Connell says he hopes to share his journey with as many people possible. He invites anyone interested to join him for whatever distance they wish. “Sometimes the youth run with me,” he said. “That’s always inspiring.”

“It’s an urgent need for kids. We try to get them to share their stories. We’re making a documentary to give them a voice,” said Bishop.

According to the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition’s Family Homelessness and Housing study which examined the period of 2005-2010/11, the family experience from housing stability to the brink of homelessness is a perilous reality for an increasing number of families in the region.

The number of children identified as experiencing homelessness in Cincinnati Public Schools abruptly rose by 42%, specifically the number of children identified as “doubled-up” rose by 192%. This led to more than 9% of the average daily enrollment being defined as experiencing homelessness in the 2009/2010 school year.

Team 314 also visited youth at Homeward Bound House in Newport also known as the Crisis Center. According to Connell, “Cincinnati was probably one of our busiest days we’ve had so far. We went to the Lighthouse Crisis Center and met some of the young adults (ages 17-24) that were there. We met Geoff there. He was the director of the Lighthouse Runaway and Homeless Youth Division. He gave us an abundance of information on youth homelessness in Cincinnati and information on how he is running the Youth Center there.”

“They were very shy at first, all except for Lamar. When we first walked into the center Lamar was one of the first guys we met. We all thought he was a volunteer at the shelter because of the way he introduced himself and how he was everywhere fixing little things here and there,” said Connell.

According to Connell, “Lamar was 25 years old and was just released from prison after serving a 7 year sentence. Lamar has a lot of ambition and wanted to change his life to be a better influence for his siblings. So Light House Youth Services provided him with that help. Lamar is now trying to get back into school and get his life straight,” he said. Adding, “We met the staff and all of the youth there. It was a great way to end the night, having a home cooked meal prepared by the youth at the center. All in all today was a great day.”