A couple weeks ago outside the Senate chambers at the Capitol, a colleague introduced me to a lobbyist and a board member with the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota (BikeMN). While I do not belong on two wheels, I have great respect for those who bike and bike well. And, I am a fan of BikeMN’s efforts to educate the public about bicycle safety.
What I didn’t expect was to hear a story about how they’re providing services to people who are homeless.
BikeMN’s outreach, said the board member, is usually directed at people who ride recreationally or have a choice regarding their transportation. But many people don’t ride by choice; because of their income, they must bike … or walk.
So BikeMN figured Project Homeless Connect would be a great opportunity to reach an underserved population. While their original intent was to some kind of education about bike laws and rights, they found the demand was really for fixing bicycles and teaching people how to fix their own bicycles. These bikes are left outside all year and are ridden daily in all types of weather. In other words, they’re in pretty rough shape.
In 2011, the first year, just a few volunteers attended. They experienced a big learning curve – despite working as fast as they could for 5 hours they couldn’t keep on top of the demand. Limited by people and supplies, that handful of people could only do very basic fixes on as many bikes as possible. They estimate that they fixed 30 or 40 bicycles that year.
Last year, they planned ahead. They got help from The Hub Bike Co-op. Having additional experienced mechanics and more volunteers on hand was a huge plus. But despite having more people, it seemed as hard as the previous year – more bikes and greater repairs required. In 2012, they fixed 50 or 60 bicycles and repaired one cable on a walker.
For a more complete take on the 2012 experience, check out a BikeMN blog post on the event.
That day at the Capitol as I was getting ready to say goodbye, the lobbyist extended his hand and thanked me for my work. He said something that really stuck with me: “Someday, may everyone who wants a bike have one and may everyone who needs a home have one as well.” Two wheels and a key are not a lot to ask to make a life more livable.