Austin is a running- and jogging-friendly city. It also has a homeless population of about 2,000. An Austin non-profit group is combining the two to help people break the cycle of chronic homelessness.
Back on My Feet is a program that uses running as a starting point to help people who are homeless change the way they see themselves, as well as find jobs and housing. The program started in Philadelphia in 2007, and its Austin chapter began in 2013.
The organization requires that members run three times a week with a group of volunteers and other people who are homeless. After a month, Back on My Feet will give members educational and job training, financial aid and help finding housing.
Since the program started in Austin, about 150 people have gone through it. Back on My Feet has helped half of them get jobs and 37 find housing. According to program director Paul Solis, 30 additional members have also found housing on their own after going through the program.
Jeyvan Lockerby, who had been homeless on and off for 15 years, graduated from the program in December. When he joined Back on My Feet, Lockerby was living at the Salvation Army and going through his fourteenth stint in a rehab program.
“Finally, I just gave it all up, and I started doing things that were going to help better myself physically, mentally, spiritually,” Lockerby said. “Back on My Feet is one of those programs that really did that for me.”
One of the program’s goals is to break down the stigma that homeless people and non-homeless people are extremely different from each other.
Executive director Melissa Nicewarner Daly said one way the group does this is by giving its runners athletic clothing, so they look the same as volunteers.
“Oftentimes you’ll go out to the runs, and you have no idea who is a member going through the program and who’s a volunteer showing up to run,” Nicewarner Daly said. “And for us, that’s the beauty of Back on My Feet, is that we’re all the same, we’re all in this together, and it makes us feel all part of the group.”
Lockerby said when he started running with Back on My Feet in March 2014, he had trouble keeping up.
“My first day with Back on My Feet was hell,” Lockerby says. “I’m not going to lie, because we were doing a timed mile, and I hadn’t run in…gosh, I don’t know how long. It had been years.”
He kept going, though. He eventually worked his way up to a job as a maintenance man and an apartment in Austin. Lockerby has run a few races, and he said the races’ atmosphere is part of the reason he enjoys them.
“Just when you think you can’t go no more, you’ll hear this band, or you’ll have the people on the sideline cheering you on, or something like that,” Lockerby said. “It’s awesome. It gives you that little 'go' you need, and you pick up until the next one.”
Lockerby got married earlier this month. He’s planning to run a full marathon next year.