TUESDAY, SEPT. 4 — For homeless men and women, having a functioning set of wheels is a life changer.
Every month, volunteers and mechanics from the Tri-County Bike Association, or TCBA, and Lansing Bike Co-op partner with the Lansing City Rescue Mission to help the homeless maintain functioning bicycles.
“Having a bike unshackles someone from the soles of their tennis shoes, and the cost of a CATA ride,” said Randy Barton, Director of Men’s Ministries at the Lansing City Rescue Mission. “It opens up the gateway for many things. Whether it be an opportunity to pick up a birth certificate, driver’s license, Social Security card or even employment.”
City Rescue Mission thinks outside the box of document registration and government assistance.
“The TCBA caught us off guard with this idea. We didn't think of it, and we’ve been helping the homeless in Lansing for one hundred years.”
Since April, each bike repair event sees between four to eight bicycles repaired.
“We are supposed to encourage biking and that means everybody. This is a segment of the cycling community that everyone pretty much ignores,” said Mike Unsworth, chairman of the TCBA advocacy committee.
“There is a stigma attached, because some people have had their driver’s licenses yanked for DUIs. Some people don't know safe biking techniques. Very few come up with a helmet — I wish more people did.”
Common repairs include lubricating the chain, replacing tires and adjusting them for the rider.
“Some people bring bikes in for repairs not optimum for their use, such as a racing bike optimized for racing, and not cruising through town,” Unsworth said. “We see some bikes that were specials at Meijer or Walmart. Others are pretty nice originally, and we service everything in between and cobbled together.”
They also give out flashing lights to improve riders’ visibility.
“The problem they often face is a lack of high visibility clothes. People just don't pay attention to them and it’s dangerous,” Unsworth said.
Though the homeless biking population faces a unique set of challenges, the poor state of major roads causes problems for all cyclists.
“If you want to get to Point A from Point B efficiently, you have to take the big streets and they tend to be a little rougher.”
People often come to the City Rescue Mission asking when the next bike repair is.
“People appreciate it more than most would ever imagine. Several people have come and thanked me, wrongly assuming we are the ones with our hands on the wrenches.”
The stereotype of the homeless as unappreciative is plainly false, Barton said.
“A huge percentage are just average people making their way through life with a path different, and for different reasons. At heart, they are people just like everyone else. They need transportation, food and a shoulder to lean on.”
To donate to the bike repair event, contact firstname.lastname@example.org with a short inventoried list of items in the donation.