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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Bike clinic helps the homeless get around




Kudos to the community organizations, including Fort Myers Schwinn, for bringing this bike clinic for the homeless of our community.  News-Press also covered the story, including a video.

Oct. 10, 2012
BY ATHENA PONUSHIS

Joe Brown says his bike is his house. 
COURTESY PHOTO
Joe Brown says his bike is his house.  (FW photo)


 When Mike Holm thinks about what his bicycle means to him, he thinks of recreation, entertainment, therapy. But when he thinks about what a bicycle means to the homeless, he thinks less about extravagance and more about the core of its meaning — it’s a vehicle.

“They don’t have bus fare. They don’t have the ability to use a car. Their only way to get around any distance is with a bicycle,” says Mr. Holm, who once rode his bike from Mexico to Canada. “It may take a little longer, but if they need to go somewhere, a bicycle will take them wherever they need to go.”

As owner of Fort Myers Schwinn, Mr. Holm has partnered with local businesses and agencies to hold a bike clinic for the homeless on Wednesay, Oct. 10, a day observed as World Homeless Day. Community Cooperative Ministries Inc., Lee County EMS, Rotary South and BB&T-Oswald Trippe and Company have joined Mr. Holm to launch quarterly bike clinics as a means to educate the homeless population on bicycle maintenance and safety. “We’re going to do what we can to show them the basics, simple service work, maintenance, how to take care of their bike and make it last for them without them having to spend a whole lot of money on it,” says Mr. Holm, who makes his living off of bicycles.

Every day he sees homeless cyclists walk their bikes up to his Cleveland Avenue shop to have their flat tires repaired. “We give them a tube, help them fix it, then they’re on their way,” Mr. Holm says. “They’ll ride that same bicycle until it disintegrates to the point it’s impossible to repair.”

Joe Brown knows bicycles are coveted wheels. Living homeless for 13 years, Mr. Brown rides his bike to find food to eat, clothes to wear and hopefully, work through the labor pool.

“It’s my house,” the 49-year-old man says of his bicycle. “It carries everything I need.”
Work boots, Pepsi bottles, books and clothes are bound to his bicycle with bungee cords. Shirts and socks have been stolen off his bicycle as he slept on the sidewalk. “They’ll steal your lights left and right,” says Mr. Brown, who has had many a bicycle stolen, too.

Mr. Brown calls himself a “trash man,” says he’s been working in the sanitation service 31 years. “Still do, one day a week,” he says. “But they can’t hire me on … I have seizures,” a condition Mr. Brown considers genetic, as his father has them and his daughter, too.

While he sees a bike clinic to be a kind gesture, Mr. Brown says a disability check would help him out more. “The government doesn’t want to give me my disability,” he says. “I can’t get off the street. I can’t be asked to pay rent anywhere. I can’t make anything off one day.”

So he goes on riding his bicycle about 30 miles a day, no rent or electric, no bills to pay except medical bills. He wears a peace sign around his neck, though he does not remember where it came from.

The Lee County Homeless Coalition reports that on any given day, there are an estimated 3,400 individuals without a place to call home in Lee County.

“We deal with quite a few guys who are less fortunate. They come in here and need help,” Mr. Holm says of his Schwinn shop. “I can’t give things away at the shop. It becomes a bad habit, maybe I should say, but as far as reaching out and doing something in conjunction with another organization, that works for me.”

Hence, the bike clinic being hosted at CCMI’s Everyday CafĂ© located off Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in the Dunbar neighborhood. The first 50 participants to register and attend the 45-minute clinic will receive a complimentary water bottle, travel-size sunscreen and a bike tube voucher. Eligibility to receive the bike tube voucher will require proof that the bicycle is used for employment or education.

“Bicycles are an inexpensive and efficient form of transportation, which is why they are so valuable for the homeless,” Roger Mercado, CCMI division director of social services and education, said in a prepared statement. “For many, this is their only choice of transportation, so we want to ensure that education and advocacy efforts are reaching those who most need it yet have the quietest voices.”
For more information, call 332-7687 or visit www.ccmileecounty.com. ¦

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