California’s homelessness crisis is no secret.
Tens of thousands of Californians live on the streets, in cars and in tent encampments — an impossible-to-miss tragedy that has only worsened in recent years. California, with 12 percent of the national population, has 30 percent of its homeless people.
That backdrop makes a soccer tournament known as the Homeless World Cup particularly poignant. Starting tomorrow, Sacramento will host the remarkable weeklong competition among athletes who have been homeless within the past two years, the first time the annual event has been held in the U.S. since it began 20 years ago.
The tournament, which has been held in Mexico City, Paris, Cape Town and Copenhagen, aims to rehabilitate people who have experienced homelessness by encouraging them to learn to play soccer and work toward an objective. By training with a team, they build relationships and develop confidence, which can help them secure employment and housing, said James McMeekin, the chief operating officer for the Homeless World Cup Foundation, which is based in Edinburgh.
“A lot of our participants — it sounds cheesy — but they’re winning by getting on the court in the first place,” McMeekin told me.
Countries participating in this year’s games, the first since 2019 because of pandemic interruptions, include Ukraine, Pakistan, Brazil, Indonesia and dozens of others. Five hundred athletes will compete this month at California State University, Sacramento, selected from roughly 100,000 players who are in member training programs in their countries.
The matches are not typical soccer games, but fast-paced, four-on-four contests in areas slightly smaller than basketball courts. Men’s, women’s and coed teams all compete.
Lisa Wrightsman, a coach of the U.S. women’s team, said she had been transformed by her own experience playing in the Homeless World Cup in 2010 in Rio de Janeiro. She was able to find focus and a community again, she said, after her life had veered off track and she had begun abusing drugs and alcohol.
“For all of us, playing gave us so much joy, to feel happy again, to see other people happy,” Wrightsman told me. “We didn’t have to pretend like we didn’t have our history. Everybody at that tournament had that history — that’s why you’re there.”
Wrightsman added that the competition provided “a safe space to acknowledge that, and also celebrate the commitment we’re making to a better version of ourselves and our lives.” She said she was especially moved that the games were now coming to her hometown.
The number of homeless people in Sacramento County rose to 9,278 last year, from roughly 5,570 in 2019, according to federal data. The games are being held in Sacramento because of interest and cooperation from business leaders, regional officials and Sacramento State, McMeekin said.
“In our collective frustration about homelessness, unsheltered people too often get stripped of their humanity,” said Sacramento’s mayor, Darrell Steinberg, who called hosting the games “a tremendous honor.” He added: “The World Cup shows a different side. Everyone can be part of a team. Everyone can participate. Everyone can work hard to overcome and strive for a better life.”
Lawrence Cann, the founder of Street Soccer USA, a nonprofit group that runs soccer leagues for homeless people and trains them for the Homeless World Cup, said that for formerly homeless people, practicing with a team, and if they’re lucky, playing on a grand stage, lets them be seen in a new light by the public, and even by themselves.
When spectators see these teams excelling at soccer, Cann said, “it really does a lot to reframe the issue.” He added that people often think, “These guys can’t be homeless.”
Where we’re traveling
Today’s tip comes from Bob Powell, who lives in Davis. Bob recommends walking along the Arboretum Waterway near his home:
“The waterway is what remains of the original path of Putah Creek. In the late 1800s, farmers diverted the creek away from what was then Davisville. What is left is a lake surrounded by an arboretum.
The last two and a half decades have seen continual improvement in the plant collections and in the waterway itself. There is now flowing water in the lake. The collections have been enlarged and are well maintained. I particularly like visiting in late January. The sprouts of spring are becoming apparent. A few weeks later, the acacias are in full bloom and not to be missed. Of course, each season brings its own special sights.”
Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to CAtoday@nytimes.com. We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.
And before you go, some good news
Across colleges in North America, South Asian students are throwing elaborately planned pretend weddings with the pomp and circumstance of real ones.
Why? For the vibes.
“I look to my left, and I see my desi friends having fun and listening to this music, which I expect; then I look to my right, and I see all my white friends from school who don’t understand this music, but they’re having the same amount of fun,” said Bilal Nasir, who was the groom in a mock wedding at Columbia University. “It’s kind of a euphoric moment.”
Devanshi Mehta, a student at the University of California, Santa Barbara, has attended a mock mehndi event at U.C.L.A. for the past two years.
“In college, when you’re thrust into this new environment, you want to bring pieces of familiarity with you, and a lot of that can sometimes stem from culture,” Mehta, 22, said. “It’s the opportunity to just be seen, and be heard, and be around people who feel like home.”