13 February 2023

Riding Thunder To Reach The Un-Housed

Years ago, I rode the front of a tandem bike, with a blind woman in the rear, on a ride co-sponsored by Lighthouse.

Sometimes I envision a fleet of tandems in a local Lighthouse chapter or some regional office or warehouse.  I also think about the ways different social-service organizations could use bicycles.

Such organizations might include ones that provide services and outreach to un-housed people.  A fellow named Mark Sniff in Little Rock, Arkansas is living proof that the great minds think alike. (LOL)

He is a case manager with the Ouachita Youth Center, a division of Little Rock nonprofit Ouachita Children, Youth and Family Services.  Once or twice a week, he delivers items like socks, blankets, first-aid kits and backpacks to people in the city's homeless encampments.  He often makes his deliveries on his Breezer Thunder mountain bike, "especially when the weather is nice."

One advantage to his bike of choice, he says, is that it can "handle everything from road to gravel to single track."  That is important, he says, because sometimes those camps are "difficult to get to," especially in a van or other motor vehicle.  He uses bags attached to a rear rack (which I suspect are panniers) and, when he needs more capacity, carries a backpack.

He says he's a "middleman" that connects un-housed people, especially the young, to services and facilities.  Being on a bike facilitates face-to-face connections, which builds trust.  Those facilities include the Drop-In, a space for people under 24 years old who are un-housed or in unstable housing. "People can come in, take a shower, and do laundry and take care of some of those basic needs," Sniff explains.

Many police departments maintain a fleet of bicycles for patrols that go into places that are difficult to reach by car.  Perhaps more social service agencies, especially those who serve the un-housed, could do the same, with folks like Mark Sniff leading the way. He is living proof of something I've said in earlier posts:  the bicycle can be one of the most effective tools for social mobility--and justice.

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