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Sports Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, July 2, 2009

Voorheesville native to walk across country to benefit homeless

By Jordan J. Michael

Jennifer E. Cooper is walking across the country to raise awareness of homelessness and poverty.

“It’s going to be a challenge, but I’m excited about what I will encounter along the way,” said Cooper, a Voorheesville native who now lives in Alexandria, Va. “I’ve never been much of a person to try crazy adventures like this, but I decided to go for it.”

The trip will begin in Washington, D.C. at the Lincoln Memorial on July 4 and Cooper hopes to make it to San Francisco by the end of October.

“I should make it to San Francisco on time if I walk my 25 miles per day,” Cooper said on Wednesday. “I’ve planned it all out and I built myself a little bit of a cushion.”

Cooper will spend her first night in Germantown, Md. and make stops in Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, Des Moines, Denver, and Sacramento along the way. She will rely on a network of friends and relatives, and also hopes to stay in homeless shelters.

Cooper told The Enterprise that she’ll use Couch Surfing a lot, a network of people around the country who agree to have visitors stay with them.

“Money isn’t really an issue on this trip,” said Cooper. “I would be spending the same amount of money if I wasn’t walking across the country.”

Cooper, 35, grew up in her parents’ Salem Hills home in Voorheesville and graduated from Clayton A. Bouton High School. After getting a degree from the State University of New York College at Oswego, she became a reporter in the Hudson Valley area.

Connecticut was the next move for Cooper and she eventually moved to the Washington, D.C. area in 2000 where she is currently an editor for Environmental Health News, an online newsletter.

“I’ll continue to work as I’m walking across the country,” Cooper said. “I’m bringing my laptop and I’ll have a nice blog going to document my travels.”

Cooper’s original idea was to drive across the country to do research for a book she wanted to write. But, she went to a conference in March and met Roz Savage, a woman who had rowed across the Atlantic Ocean and who is currently rowing across the Pacific.

“Savage put the walking idea into my head at first,” said Cooper. “I just thought to myself how amazing rowing solo across an ocean is. I think this had a mind of its own and it was meant to be for me.”

Helping the homeless

Living in the D.C. area, Cooper is reminded of homelessness and poverty every day so she’s using the walk to draw attention to people in need all across the country.

“Homelessness is very much in your face in D.C.,” Cooper said. “It’s sad to see people sleeping on the street. Everyone has sat at a bus station; now imagine sitting at that bus station endlessly. That’s what being homeless must feel like. I want to help these people.”

Many laws, for example, overly restrictive zoning laws, make homeless life even worse than it already is, she said.

“A lot of homeless people don’t get treated with any respect, but we need to realize that they’re still a person,” said Cooper. “Someone sees a homeless guy on the street and they give them a dollar because they feel guilty. And then, that’s it; they walk on. We need to take more action than just throwing change at people.”

Cooper told The Enterprise that it was rough living on her own right out of college, but she had her parents to fall back on for support. “Some people don’t have anyone to fall back on,” she said.

“Housing could be more affordable and better decisions could be made at a local level,” said Cooper. “I don’t think Voorheesville has any affordable housing and that’s not good. Something needs to be done.”

Cooper also suggested that the minimum wage be increased. “I’m going to talk to as many people as I can along the way and try to help them as much as possible. But, I’m only one person.”

Rural homelessness is slowly increasing, according to Cooper. “It’s very easy to imagine that someone could be homeless in New Scotland,” she said. “It’s not just people on the street –– it could be someone that has to crash on their friend’s couch.”

“I’m hoping to give the homeless population a voice. I’m sure everyone that I talk to will want something different,” said Cooper. “I want this to be on people’s radar. If people fall into homelessness, then they can fall out. I’ll encourage them to find a way.”

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