“Keep on Breathing”: Jim Jenkins Wins at More Than Soccer in the Homeless World Cup


By Erin Dej

Jim Jenkins is a goalie for an international soccer league. He has also experienced homelessness, mental health challenges, and struggled with addiction. Jim was one of a few Canadians, and only Ottawa resident, chosen for the 2015 Street Soccer Canada – National Team who played in the Homeless World Cup in Amsterdam, Netherlands last summer.

It has been a long road for Jim to get to Amsterdam. He spent a year and a half in Ottawa shelters, some of that time fighting for his life with double pneumonia while detoxing. Never one to give up, Jim decided that “life is still a goal” and fought to regain his health and his life. He eventually secured housing through Ottawa Community Housing and has remained successfully housed for the last eight years.

Then in 2010 the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) began a recreational soccer league for individuals who had experienced homelessness, mental health problems and/or addiction as part of a broader recovery program. Jim was one of the original players, finding that the program had a positive impact on all of the participants: “They weren’t just in a shelter and doing nothing with themselves”. The team gave Jim a sense of respect from his peers and filled his time with a healthy activity that he says helped kick some bad habits.

Jim hit the big leagues in 2015. The Ottawa Street Soccer team won the Ottawa Community Cup, placed 1st in the Provincials in Ottawa, and placed 3rd at the Nationals in Hamilton before Jim was invited to play goalkeeper in Amsterdam. The Homeless World Cup was intense – teams from 49 countries played 2 games a day for 10 days, half of which were played in the rain. Jim laments that players suffered from bruises, pulled muscles, broken bones, and lost a few teeth but that the tournament also provided him with an opportunity to demonstrate his leadership skills, receive recognition for his hard work, and build friendships with players from other countries who had been through similar struggles. For Jim and his teammates, the tournament wasn’t about winning, it was about bonding: “[In soccer] you’re a link in a chain and without you the chain is broken”. With up to 200 spectators at a given game, including celebrities and the King of Holland, Canada placed 2nd in their division.

Jim, who besides being a goalie is an accomplished writer, musician, and comedian, achieved another accolade in Amsterdam. The chant he wrote to motivate his Canadian team was so popular that by the end of the tournament other teams had adopted it as well. It is only fitting to conclude Jim’s story in his own words characterizing the passion and determination that saw him through getting clean, becoming housed, and taking on any challenge life kicks in his direction:

Keep on breathing

Pain is just a feeling

And it’s one more reason

To use your heart and all its meaning

So show your Canadian pride on the outside