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January 09, 2008 - Image 9

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 2008-01-09

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AlIkk AdMIL - Al 191-



The Michigan Daily -- Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Campus's obstacle course

ome on, Allie," my team-
mate Mike called over to
me. "You've got this!"
I was holding everyone up -
which was somewhat understand-
able, as I was staring at a giant slab
of concrete. And though the sensi-
ble thing would be to walk around
it or not to be here in the first place,
in a rarelyused corner of the School
of Dentistry courtyard, I had other
plans. Encountering a wall in the
sport of parkour means there's no
way to the other side but over.
As I eyed my stubbornly con-
crete adversary, I was praying that
this time I'd be able to keep the
skin on my knees. My poor legs
already bore the scrapes of a dozen
failed attempts to do a "lazy vault,"
but my pride was chafing worst of
all. Cursing under my breath and
launching myself forward, I swung
my hips up, and felt a rush of glee
as I found my feet stumbling for-
ward on the other side. It was the
first time I had managed a vault. I
swelled with pride.
For reasons unknown to me at
the time, I recently took up one of
the most illogical, absurd and ulti-
mately fulfilling sports available.
When questioned by my friends,
concerned about my limbs' dimin-
ishing stretches of unscathed skin,
Washtenaw County has differ-
ent plans for people who have had
difficulty climbing out of home-
lessness. In 2004, the county began
an ambitious initiative called the
Blueprint to End Homelessness
that ambitiously plans to eradicate
homelessness in the area by 2014.
The plan aims to strengthen
communication between the
county's homeless assistance
organizations which has led to
the specialization of responsibil-
ity for all centers. This specializa-
tion includes the evolution of more
concrete roles such as fundraiser,
housing development and health
care organizations. The plan is
also creating a database of shared
records that help track a homeless
person's interaction with different
programs in the network.
The shift to viewing the coun-
ty's separate organizations as a
network for an unified movement

I'm faced with the near impossible
task of explaining parkour without
sounding nutty.
Basically, it's turned campus
into my personal obstacle course.
Where you see a construction fence
directing you another way, park-
our practitioners see a beckoning
hurdle in their quest for the short-
est route possible - and they'll use
a mixture of gymnastics, break
dancing, rock climbing and martial
arts to achieve it.
Too often, parkour is confused
with buildering, the climbing of
buildings, or Yamakasi, the dare-
devil bastard child of parkour and
movie stunts. Far from being flashy
exhibitionism, the motives of par-
kour are rather Zen. The sport's
athletes, called traceurs, seek
"flow:" an understanding of their
surroundings, a oneness with their
environment and freedom from
physical and mental obstacles.
And the mental obstacles can be
just as real.
As a new convert to the Michi-
gan Parkour Crew, I often find
myself marveling at the grace and
agility of my teammates. They have
the coordination to move well and
the self-assurance to practice. And
it takes great self-assurance. You
must either have to enjoy the spot-
coincides with a changing approach
to homelessness management,
said Chuck Keefer, director of the
Washtenaw Housing Alliance, a
coalition of 26 county agencies that
collaborated on the Blueprint plan.
Keefer said leaders of the agen-
cies have stopped looking into
expanding shelter programs in
order to provide more beds, and
have started focusing wholly on
preventing and correcting home-
lessness by creating subsidized
housing projects and outreach ini-
tiatives to assist low-income people
before they lose their homes.
"The emphasis of the housing
infrastructure has really shifted
from management of the crisis of
homelessness to solving the prob-
lem of homelessness," he said.
"With every shelter we build we
haven't done anything at all to end
The agencies have made progress
with their plan, creating about 200
apartments this year, and the blue-
print has spread to other counties.
In 2006, a state initiative mandated

light or be convinced of your own egoists. It's absolutely wholesome.
invisibility to comfortably parkour Unfortunately, certain authority
in public. I'm still working on that figures see something else in what
part. we do. And though many authority
But the beauty of parkour, and figures warm up to the sport once
they understand its rationale, for
others it's easy to jump to conclu-
sions about a group of strangely-
W here you see behaving young adults in hoodies.
One day, sprinting around the
a wall, corner and ducking under the pine
tree, I scrambled awkwardly up a
parkour fans see wall near University Health Ser-
vices and paused for a moment,
a challenge gasping for breath and trying to
ignore the stares from passers-by
as I looked for a way down. I was
one of the things that keeps me running our new timed circuit,
kicking my own ass twice a week at which circled through the Den-
the Michigan Parkour practices, is tistry building and adjacent park-
the sport's underlying commitment ing complexes. Hopping down off
to acceptance of anyone willing to a low ledge, I continued forward,
give it a shot. David Belle, one of running across benches and dash-
the sport's founders, famously said, ingup stairs.
"Tell me how you move and I'll tell I felt a rising sparkle of excite-
you who you are." ment. Before then, I hadn't been
Anyone can offer a new form of able to complete one of the wall
movement. Anyone can come up climbs up the parking structure,
with a new way of interacting with but had an idea for a new foot-
a lamppost. hold to try. I furrowed my brow,
Every parkour crew I've ever and with a running start, I got my
encountered has been a study in hands and arms up over the wall. I
positive group dynamics. Individu- felt euphoric with the success. I felt
als and the group grow together. unstoppable.
There are no points, no losers, no "Stop!"

I stopped.
Dropping down to the floor
again, I turned around and came
face to face with a parking guard.
Her mouth was set in a thin line.
She was not pleased. Irate would be
an accurate description.
"What do. you think you're
doing?," she said. "This is not a
I opened my mouth to try to
actually explain what I thought I
was doing, but saved my breath.
With a meek apology, I hurried off
to the stairs, listeningto her shouts
that the police were being notified.
When I arrived back at the start-
ing point, out of breath in my haste
to deliver the message, the rest
of the crew laughed. Apparently,
everyone running the circuitbefore
me had received an identical warn-
ing. Our personal quests to over-
come all of life's obstacles weren't
a good reason to affront the prized
walls of a parking structure.
Yet, for all of the bumps, scrapes
and public chastisement, the rush
of parkour has become my new
drive. I'm going for the speed vault
-Allison Ghaman is an associate
design editor for The Michigan
Daily and an LSA sophomore
savings. Administrators of local
relief organizations said that an
increase in demand for food fore-
warns that the economic straits of
many may soon lead to homeless-
Of course, lines at soup kitch-
ens that stretch around the block
remain unlikely. The influx of
people into the homeless popula-
tion that some experts anticipate
wouldn't be so large that the aver-
age person would notice. But, as the
state's history with homelessness
has shown, that's part of the prob-
lem. When homelessness remains
a vague, misunderstood taboo,
people slip through the cracks who
would never seem to fit the popular
profile of a homeless person. And
while the last decade has given way
to a significant change in homeless-
ness relief, homelessness preven-
tion agencies in Washtenaw County
and statewide will have to fight to
maintain the movement's momen-
tum when state and local funding
wars begin to ignore a barely vis-
ible class.

that every area adopt a similar pro-
gram, and now most counties have
10-year programs of their own.
Keefer said the shift is an eco-
nomically smart departure from
how most cities have handled
homelessness in the past, citing
statistics reporting that keeping
people in subsidized housing is a
third s expensive per day as keep-
ing them in jail and half as expen-
sive as keeping them in temporary
In some sense, creating afford-
able housing in times of economic
struggle is undoing what happened
duringtimes offiscalliveliness. The
gentrification of many cities' down-
towns removed older, low-rent
apartments to make way for chain
restaurants and specialty shops.
Involuntary homelessness was not
as widespread a few decades ago as
it is today, Keefer said.
"Historically it hasn't always
been this social problem we call
homelessness," he said.
But despite an apparent an
increase in homeless relief across

the state, consequences of econom-
ic pitfalls of the last few years will
likely make the 10-year deadline
impossible to meet, and could even
test the shelter system's ultimate
Organizations that provide food
have recently seen a large spike in
their number of clients, said Eileen
Spring, executive director of Food
Gatherers, a Washtenaw County
agency that collects edible food
from groceries after sell-by dates to
distribute to needy people. She said
Food Gatherers ran out of food for
the first time this summer..
"Food banks throughout Michi-
gan have experienced significant
increase in demand - the last two
years, especially," Spring said. "We
are designed as a supplementary
program, not to provide bread and
butter type of services - and we're
definitely providing bread and but-
ter type of services."
Collins said the boost might con-
sist of people who were laid off a
long time ago and are coming to the
end of their unemployment pay and

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