Each Thursday at Franklin Square Park, a group of mostly homeless men and women pull red T-shirts over their clothes and line up for a sport called “street soccer.” Players are often recruited directly out of shelters. To remain on the team, they must identify negative factors in their lives and set goals to overcome them.

And many do overcome. According to nonprofit Street Soccer USA, which organizes the league, within one year of signing up 75 percent of players either connect with jobs and housing, complete a rehabilitation program, or further their education.

“You just see a homeless [person] and you don’t even think about it,” said Rob Cann, the organization’s national director. “Street soccer brings them back into the conversation and challenges people’s stereotypes and perceptions of who the homeless are.”

Homeless soccer started in North Carolina, and the first program was launched in 2006 in Charlotte. Now, 20 such leagues exist throughout the country. This weekend, homeless teams from cities across the West will converge on San Francisco to compete against local corporate teams in the inaugural Street Soccer USA West Coast Cup.

Regional street soccer tournaments began five years ago on the East Coast. This will be the first such event to take place west of the Mississippi. The San Francisco Recreation and Park Department partnered with Housing Opportunity Partnership & Engagement (HOPE) to host the games.

The Western Cup tournament games will take place Saturday from 8:40 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. in Justin Herman Plaza in San Francisco.

For more information visit streetsoccerusa.org/SFCUP.

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Marta came from Zaragoza, Spain to master her English but everyone she speaks to wants to practice Spanish. After just a few months in the Mission, she already feels at home. In her free time she can be found reading books, watching movies, roller skating or just enjoying a good meal, an interesting conversation or a sunny walk around the neighborhood.

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