Both Asrat Geleta and Hadi Sadeghiasl know the realities of homelessness.

This time last year both men were, in fact, homeless.

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But Sunday morning they beamed as winners of the inaugural Hope for the Homeless, a charity 5K and 10K run/walk in Southwest Baltimore. The event was organized by Run Life's Course, a New York-based group that focuses on shorter running events that highlight fitness and preventing homelessness. Proceeds from Baltimore’s event — $5,700 was raised, according to organizers — benefited the Baltimore-based Back On My Feet, a program that helps to transition the homeless into homes in 90 days.

“The homeless should have a place to live,” said Geleta, a native of Ethiopia who has battled alcoholism in the past. “Home is where you start every day.”

Temeko Richardson, who founded Run Life's Course in 2017, has hosted similar races throughout the country.

“Baltimore has a striking increase in homelessness,” she said. “We want to get people back on their feet. … This gives them hope.”

On any given night in Baltimore there are 2,669 people experiencing homeless — based on a “point-in-time” count, according to a 2017 study from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Youth homelessness in Baltimore higher than previously thought

Homelessness among Baltimore youths is much higher than previously thought, according to data collected by homeless advocates, service providers and the city.

Two hundred and seventy-five participants ran and walked the electronically chip-timed USA Track & Field-certified event from Hollins Street through the Hollins Market section by the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum to Carroll Park and back. In addition to a neon green T-shirt, participants were also treated to massage tables and made-to-order pancakes, French toast and egg-white omelets at the finish line.

“Good job!” shouted Desiree Sullivan, a volunteer, as she passed out cups of water to runners as they zoomed by on the back-stretch of the race, two miles from the finish line. “It feels good to give back and volunteer.”

Sullivan said that she volunteered because she believed in the cause.

“I’m here to support the homeless,” she said. “I want to be part of the solution.”

Another volunteer, Chad Copeland, said he was struck by the reactions of the participants.

“They get emotional at the finish line,” he said. “They muster the strength to finish. It’s not about beating a time. It’s more important for them to finish.”

Ivan Leshinsky, a resident of Southwest Baltimore for the past 13 years, said he was encouraged by Sunday’s turnout. In fact, he wants to work with the event next year.

“It’s a good cause,” said Leshinsky, who is also the race director of the annual Sowebo Landmark 5K. “It’s timely. If you look at every intersection, there is a homeless person carrying a sign. It all goes back to jobs and drugs. If people don’t get a good start in life, it’s hard to get on.”

Catherine Causion was pleasantly surprised when she left her home Sunday morning to see participants running and jogging passed her front door.

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“This is nice,” she said. “I hope it works.”

Causion attributes the city’s homelessness problem to “improper allocation of funds” and added “It’s a very flawed system and a flawed hierarchy of needs.”

Sadeghiasl, who said he was helped by Catholic Charities of Baltimore as he has made the transition back to living in a home, wants to give back to the community.

“Now that I’m back on my feet, I am here to support and enjoy the race with nice people,” said Sadeghiasl, who won the 5K race. “I can do something for other people.”

Geleta said he wants to help increase the number of participants in the future.

“It’s a good cause,” he said.

Geleta pointed to a lack of parenting and an oversaturation of liquor stores as reasons why homelessness persists in Baltimore.

“There’s a liquor store right around the corner,” he said at the finish line. “We need to do a better job taking care of our kids.”

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