Rantin: Helping the homeless get to work

02/07/2014 7:26 PM

02/08/2014 6:44 PM

It was a challenge from Pastor Amos Disasa to congregants at Downtown Church in Columbia last spring that literally got the wheels spinning for a new outreach to the area’s homeless.

Disasa, who was closely tied to several homeless initiatives, was aware of a key challenge facing that segment of the population. After all, getting or keeping a job isn’t easy when you have no way to and from work.

In recent months, a small gathering from the church has been helping more people make their way around town and to their places of employment. Through ReRun bicycle outreach, church volunteers have been repairing and tuning up donated bicycles and giving them to the Transitions homeless recovery center, which in turn gives them to working homeless adults.

The church has supplied about two dozen bicycles so far and hopes to receive more donations so it can build on those numbers.

“Our main goal is to provide transportation for the homeless so that they can get jobs and navigate around town,” said Paul Hernandez, who has coordinated the eight or so volunteers directly involved in the work.

Hernandez said after receiving donated bicycles, the church takes them to a secure location where volunteers make needed repairs and perform test rides before delivering them to Transitions. Donated children’s bicycles also are repaired but are taken to the Family Shelter.

“We take the bikes and make minor adjustments,” said John Beach, one of the team members.

Much of the group’s formal bicycle repair training came from John Greene, who owns the Cycle Center in Columbia. When Greene heard about the effort, he held a full-day workshop on basic bicycle repairs. He also makes bicycle parts available to the group at cost.

Church members believe their service to the area’s homeless is a practical one.

“Getting around is important,” said Stewart Rawson. “The bus lines don’t go to (many) places where people work and live.”

“It’s so good and it’s such an easy thing (to do),” added Michael Quinn.

John Dawkins, Transition’s community resources manager, said the helping hand from the church has been a welcome complement to the center’s mission of returning the homeless to self-sufficiency.

“It’s much-needed and very practical,” Dawkins said. “The issue that we face constantly is that people have a job or they are offered a job but they are unable to get to a job because of unreliable transportation. Without having that option, we have a lot of people who would not be able to be employed. So it helps us help people become more self-reliant.”

To receive a bicycle, individuals must be employed or have a pending job offer and demonstrate the ability to maintain the bicycle. Transitions also plans to hold bicycle safety classes.

Dawkins noted that several other groups have donated bicycles to the center, but added Downtown Church has become the agency’s biggest contributor.

“It really is something there is a constant need for,” he said.

Church workers say they hope to continue responding to that need for the foreseeable future.

“I think it’s a great to be adding meaning to their lives beyond a short-term thing,” said Paul Greathouse.

Downtown Church meets at 701 Whaley. Sunday morning worship begins at 10 a.m. To donate a bicycle or make a financial contribution to the Downtown Church ReRun Outreach, call (803) 875-0156.

About Bertram Rantin

Bertram Rantin


Bertram Rantin is The State's metro columnist with a current focus on the inspirational people and community helpers in Columbia, SC, and the Midlands. Rantin has covered a variety of areas during his tenure at the newspaper including local government, schools, sports, features, transportation, volunteerism and non profits. Email Bertram at brantin@thestate.com or call him at (803) 771-8306.

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