Homeless and at-risk soccer players will compete this weekend in a national street soccer cup in San Francisco, Street Soccer USA has announced.
Street Soccer USA officials said their aim is to help the homeless and at-risk youth improve their lives through education, jobs and health advocacy.
The tournament began at 12:30 p.m. today with a ceremony and parade of states, Street Soccer USA’s co-founder Rob Cann said.
Later today 20 teams from 16 cities will compete in Civic Center Plaza in front of City Hall, Cann said.
Tomorrow 20 amateur and 32 corporate teams will also compete, with proceeds going to support Street Soccer USA programs and coaches.
“It’s an inspiring community event,” Cann said.
Homelessness and poverty in San Francisco can be a divisive topic, but the Street Soccer USA players are making good decisions, he said. The teams help the players stay on track.
Players get help with everything from learning to show up on time to getting an apartment or treatment for substance abuse, Cann said.
Children eight to 13 years old focus on healthy living and improving their behavior, he said. Adults get help with employment and life skills.
Seventy-five percent of players who have been in the program for a year go back to school, find a job, obtain housing or get treatment for mental health or substance abuse challenges, he said.
Street Soccer USA staff work each year with about 300 San Franciscans who live in low-income housing, youth service centers and youth homeless centers, he said.
Street Soccer USA staff partner with San Francisco groups such as the Larkin Street Youth Services, which aims to get and keep homeless and at-risk youth off the streets, the group’s website says.
The soccer nonprofit’s staff run programs in the Western Addition, Tenderloin and SoMa neighborhoods, Cann said. This year’s tourney is meant to help the nonprofit expand play to the Mission and Bayview neighborhoods, as well as San Jose and Oakland.
Street Soccer USA officials expect to launch the program in Oakland in 2016 in the San Antonio neighborhood, Cann said.
Keith Burbank, Bay City News