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Activists put homeless plight on air

A 14-hour radio marathon from Portland will be broadcast nationwide and in Canada

Don't be alarmed Tuesday night if you see a man standing out in the cold barking into a microphone near the corner of Southeast Eighth Avenue and East Burnside Street.

Chances are it will be Jeremy Weir Alderson, a.k.a. Host Nobody, who is taking to the air for 14 straight hours to raise awareness about the nation's homeless problem.

Alderson and dozens of guest speakers will stay outside all night Tuesday for the Fifth Annual Homelessness Marathon, a live radio broadcast that has grown from a grass-roots movement in upstate New York to the largest media event in the United States focusing on homelessness.

They don't solicit donations on air because their message is that solving the problem of homelessness requires a change in national priorities, not charity. While they're on air, small marches, candlelight vigils and sit-ins take place simultaneously across the country; tapes of the broadcast have been archived in libraries at Cornell, Harvard and Stanford universities.

Hosts of this year's marathon, which has earned praise for giving homeless people a voice, are KBOO community radio station (90.7 FM) and Street Roots, a newspaper produced by Portland area homeless people.

The marathon will run from 7 p.m. Tuesday to 9 a.m. Wednesday. Although it will originate in Portland, it is expected to be broadcast on more than 50 radio stations nationwide and in Canada.

'This national exposure will be very humbling to us,' said Cassandra Garrison, an Oregon Food Bank public policy advocate and marathon panelist. 'For so long in Oregon, we have touted ourselves as a success É It's time to show that the emperor has no clothes here.'

Alderson and co-host Bryan Pollard, managing editor of Street Roots, will take calls from people around the country as well as the Portland area, where shelters have arranged to set up special listening rooms with telephones.

Homeless people also are welcome to participate by visiting the broadcast site Ñ where hot meals and drinks will be served Ñ in front of KBOO studios at 20 S.E. Eighth Ave.

Guest speakers from local groups such as Dignity Village and Sisters of the Road Cafe, and national organizations such as the National Coalition for the Homeless and the Coalition Against Hunger, are expected to hold hourly panels on a range of topics.

'What I appreciate about the marathon is É the healing and the growing process that occurs when someone who has been marginalized is able to stand up and be counted,' Pollard said.

Alderson, a 52-year-old free-lance writer and pizza delivery man, has been writing about homelessness since 1988. Ten years later, he got the idea for a radio marathon while he was working as a host for 'The Nobody Show,' a weekly talk show broadcast on WEOS, a National Public Radio affiliate in Geneva, N.Y.

The show previously has been put on by radio stations in Cambridge, Mass., Champaign, Ill., and Philadelphia.

As someone who has been homeless Ñ experiencing the 'benign end of homelessness' for a year and a half Ñ Alderson is keenly aware that homelessness can happen to anyone.

'If you see homeless people on the street, that means something is wrong,' he said. 'Any of us can have a reversal of our circumstances.'

He goes by the name Nobody when he's on air.

'What does it take to be a somebody in America?' Alderson asked. 'We see too much of the world from the top down, and I wanted to identify with people from the bottom trying to go up.'

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