Even though he is near the top of the athletic pyramid in the nation, Washington Wizards star Gilbert Arenas once lived near the bottom. Personal experiences with homelessness drove him to get involved in the fight against the growing problem in this region and nationwide.
"I started off homeless, sleeping in a car with my dad," said Arenas. "It takes one, two people to help anyone out." Arenas established the Zero Two Hero Foundation to help children grow up safe and healthy, and families to overcome obstacles on the road to moving into a home.
"His environment didn’t stop him from achieving," said former basketball star Earvin "Magic" Johnson about Arenas. He said Arenas is the perfect role model, not only for the children who may look up to him, but also for other athletes who could help in the fight against homelessness and other issues.
McLean-based Freddie Mac sponsored Hoops for Homeless, a 3-on-3 basketball tournament, held on Saturday, June 9, at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. The event netted $900,000 for six local organizations fighting homelessness — Reston Interfaith, Hannah House, So Others Might Eat, United Communities Against Poverty, Community Ministry of Montgomery County and Securing Emergency Resources Through Volunteer Service. Ralph Boyd, the company’s executive vice president for community relations, said there are 12,000 homeless people in the National Capital region. He said more than 3,000 of them are children. "We should feel discomfort about it, discomfort that should motivate us to do something," said Boyd. He said Freddie Mac hopes to be a part of an effort to defeat homelessness, not manage it. "It takes resources, takes people and takes communities," said Boyd.
While Johnson and Arenas are heroes in their own right, Boyd said the six organizations benefiting from the event are the real heroes of the day. Johnson said he has taken part in Hoops for Homeless for the past six years. "I shouldn’t be patted on the back. I should be a part of this," said Johnson. He said homeless people want to be a part of the American dream, and many of them are working people, but they need someone to help. Also, he said, "Others are kids who really have no say, so let them have a home-cooked meal."
In Arenas’s personal experience, he said he did not know the people who helped him, but his father did. They were friends and family members who gave what little they could to help them find a home, and help propel Arenas to a successful career he enjoys now.
Reston resident, and one of the winners of this year’s Best of Reston award, Wendell Byrd attended Hoops for Homeless on Saturday. He said it was great to see Johnson, Arenas and other celebrities get involved with an issue that holds importance for much of the region’s population. "They are real role models," said Byrd. He said celebrities could help drag other people into the fight, and could attract sponsorships other people would struggle to obtain. Also, they are magnets for other celebrities to join the fight. "There are tremendous athletes all over the region looking to put in their time towards a good cause," said Byrd.
"Enticement is easy," said Johnson. "First you got to be doing it" and then others will want to be a part of it. He said he was grateful to be part of the event. "They’ve got kids here who have never been inside this arena, and it makes me feel good to see those families out there," said Johnson.