A number of groups will march for the homeless the same day the world's spotlight is on the opening ceremonies for the 2002 Winter Games.

The groups comprise people unhappy with a national agenda they say is misguided, so they will join the "March for Our Lives" Friday, Feb. 8.

The date of the march for poor, unemployed and homeless individuals and families is no accident. Organizer Cheri Honkala, the founder and executive director of the Philadelphia-based Kensington Welfare Rights Union, said the Homeland Security effort and the money spent on Olympic safety underscores poor priorities of the United States and the international community.

"The homeland security that most of us need is access to jobs, health care and food," she said, adding that the march is particularly appropriate as the recession continues to cause job losses, including 1.6 million as a result of Sept. 11.

"Thirty-two percent of Utahns are children. We're spending (millions) on Olympic security but cutting" funding to the Children's Health Insurance Program, which serves about 26,700 Utah children from low-income families, said Bonnie Macri, of JEDI for Women. "We need to take care of basic needs," she said.

The march for economic rights, living wages, health care and other welfare issues is sponsored by a number of activist groups, local and national. Starting at 4 p.m., the march will travel from Reservoir Park on 1300 East and South Temple to President's Circle at the University of Utah and as close to Rice-Eccles Stadium as legally possible, organizers said.

"The problem has really reached a level that calls for a massive movement," Honkala said. "(The participants) need to be people who live in the situation themselves."

Members of some Utah religious organizations indicated their support Saturday to the march.

"The poor must be allowed to speak for themselves," said Martin Braselton of the South Valley Unitarian Universalist Society.

James Tobler of Mormons for Equality and Social Justice said the march is tied directly to the theology of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"It is a very vibrant part of our doctrine," he said. "It is essential that we endorse campaigns."

"This march speaks to us in a very personal way," added fellow group member John Charles Duffy.

The First Baptist Church in Salt Lake also came out in support.

In anticipation of Friday's march, supporters are sponsoring a two-day conference on related issues, a health-care vigil and an interfaith service this week. The conference is free and will be at Orson Spencer Hall at the U. Monday and Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. From 5 to 7 p.m. Monday there will be an interfaith service, also in OSH.

"There will be several services during the Olympics, (but) this one really embraces the poor," Honkala said.

The health-care vigil will be on Wednesday, Feb. 6, at 7 p.m., outside University Hospital. The group has permits for the march, and believes it has the "right to public sidewalks (for the health-care vigil) . . . God has given us permission," Honkala said.

She hopes the Salt Lake Organizing Committee, which she said is "welcoming the world," will embrace the marchers.

"The world includes homeless people," she said. "Hopefully folks will make sure that their voices are heard even under those crazy conditions" of the Games.


E-mail: lwhite@desnews.com