Taking it to the streets
Update: The New York City Marathon has been cancelled in the wake of Sandy. No word on whether Kokoska will carry out the other portion of his endeavour, which would find him living on the streets for two days, Nov. 2-4.
Forty eight hours on the street plus a 42-km race through the boroughs of New York City — for Langley’s Kevin Kokoska, it adds up to both a journey of self discovery and a right of passage.
Kokoska, 25, who has titled his adventure “Almost Home,” is a D.W. Poppy graduate now living and working in Vancouver, who plans to spend 48 hours living on the streets, before running in the New York City Marathon on Sunday, Nov. 4.
After graduating with a psychology degree from Kwantlen Polytechnic University, he is now employed as youth worker in Covenant House’s Rights of Passage transitional living program, which helps street youths to rebuild their lives, by providing safe, affordable accommodation, ongoing support and life skills training for up to two years.
Kokoska isn’t sure how the program got its name, but it’s one of the questions he believes may be answered through the exercise.
“I hope after this to reconnect with that. This, for me, is a right of passage,” he said over the phone from Vancouver.
Kokoska first visited New York’s Covenant House last summer during a side trip into the U.S. from Montreal.
As the first Covenant House, it has a certain aura about it, Kokoska said. “It’s massive and it’s got all this history.”
While he was there, the staff asked him to come back in November and run the NYC Marathon.
Kokoska, an endurance athlete, was intrigued, but wanted to find a way to make the exercise more meaningful, so he decided to spend two days before the race out on the streets of America’s largest city.
“We talked about doing it in Vancouver, but that would be too easy. I know the lay of the land and the resources that are available,” he explained.
This situation is more authentic, Kokoska said, because young people often find themselves in a strange city without work or a place to live.
From the time he arrives at the NYC Covenant House in Manhattan at 6 a.m. on Nov. 2, he will be treated as though he is trying to get into the 300-bed shelter which is always full.
“I’ll be told by staff what youth in my place would be told. I’ll go through the process to see what it’s like.”
Once he is turned away with whatever limited items the shelter has available to give him, he will spend the next two days and nights wandering the streets of as many boroughs as he can, panhandling for change and attempting to ride transit without any money.
“I wouldn’t put in all this effort to sit in a Starbucks for 48 hours,” he said.
It’s impossible to fully replicate the experience of being homeless, he acknowledged, because he knows that once the 48 hours are up he will have a place to stay and food to fill his stomach.
During the time he spends on the street, Kokoska is hopeful that he’ll be able to find something relatively substantial to eat, though, because he still has to run a full marathon.
“After 48 hours on the street I’ll return to Covenant House. But instead of being offered a warm bed, I’ll be offered a warm shuttle bus to the starting line,” he said.
Kokoska’s efforts are meant to raise funds for Vancouver’s Covenant House and to give the youth worker a better sense of where his clients are coming from. But as he focused on that side of things, he failed to anticipate the impact his decision would have on his own friends and family.
“One thing I didn’t foresee was the genuine concern for my safety. My mother is barely sleeping at night,” he said.
“The point is, they worry because they care about me. It’s easy to forget about the nameless, faceless people.
“I like that I’m making people uncomfortable or nervous, because that’s happening thousands of times over every night.”
To read more about Kokoska’s story and to support his fundraising efforts, go to facebook.com/AlmostHomeNY or to http://www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/almosthome/ing-nyc-marathon