The Bicycle Paper recently profiled “Cycling Forward,” a YouthCare program downtown that empowers homeless and under-served youth with bike fixing skills and the chance to get wheels of their own. The program provides young people with a stable learning environment and mentorship needed to get a forgotten bike back into shape.
Tonight is like any other Tuesday night at Orion, when from 3:30 to 6:30, anyone interested in learning about, fixing or riding can come into the center to refurbish one of the nearly two dozen bikes in various conditions which hang behind the reception area. One young man is here for the first time; Rouse helps him pick out a fixer-upper and sets him to work with a detailed checklist to identify what parts can stay and what needs to be replaced or repaired.
“Cycling Forward” is just one of the many programs that YouthCare offers to help homeless young men and women find stable housing, education, training and employment. Since 1974, the organization has served homeless and under-served youth ages 11-24. The cycling program is unique because individuals who face barriers keeping them from other more structured programs can find a safe and stable place to learn new skills with mentors to guide them.
Rouse and Worthen keep the atmosphere comfortable and flexible. They are careful to respect everyone’s boundaries and encourage teamwork and patience. Light meals are also available as are showers and laundry so they don’t have to sacrifice basic needs to enter a program.
The story is great, but the paragraph below is my favorite part:
Another participant used his refurbished bike to spend the day filling out job applications, and found work within a week. Rouse has even loaned bikes to youth in crisis. For example, one participant took a bike out for several hours around the city and “came back with a huge smile on his face drenched in sweat.” He needed an escape from his crisis and sometimes riding bicycles can provide that. Another teen came to Cycling Forward dreaming of saving for a car because he believed he needed one to find a girlfriend. After refurbishing a bike in the program and riding avidly around town, he met a girl cyclist and confessed, “I don’t think I need a car anymore.”
When I wrote for Real Change (which I miss doing), I had the opportunity to sit down and talk at length with many people who found themselves homeless for all kinds of unique reasons. There is no one “cause” for homelessness, just as there is no single solution to help.
And it makes sense that many homeless people ride bikes. Biking is a solution to a myriad of problems that differ from person-to-person. Bikes are obviously not a silver bullet to end all homelessness (or obesity, global warming, declining business districts, traffic jams, government budget shortfalls, and on and on), but they can be a huge help to many people. The more accessible bicycles are and the more people in our city feel safe biking, the more bikes can help more people.