Rolling Forward: CCU professors partner with New Directions to provide free transportation for the homeless
On July 20, CCU sociology professors Sara Brailler and Stephanie Southworth delivered bicycles that had been abandoned on CCU’s campus and collected by the Department of Public Safety to the New Directions men’s shelter in Myrtle Beach. The bicycles will be available for the shelter’s clients to rent for free on a daily basis.
The program is called Rolling Forward, and it’s been several years in the making.
“Sociology students from my social inequality classes have been interviewing the homeless since 2016,” Southworth said. “When looking at the data, Dr. Brailler and I found there is a desperate need for transportation that we could meet.”
The professors spent the past year applying for grants to help meet those transportation needs, and were able to use grant money to purchase bike racks, bike locks and bike helmets to go along with the donation of the bicycles.
Brailler reached out to the Department of Public Safety earlier this year to see if they had any bicycles they could donate to the program. It just so happened that this year, officers had collected more abandoned bicycles from the campus than they ever had before.
“Students and others leave their bikes on bike racks, abandon them,” said Officer Steve Valenti. “I go back through incident reports to verify if there are any stolen or lost property, and we check with the owners of bikes that are registered with us, but if we can’t get in touch with the owners after a certain amount of time, those bikes are considered abandoned property.”
Public Safety officers collect abandoned bicycles about two weeks after the end of each semester, and at the end of Spring 2018 had collected more than 140 bicycles.
“We are always looking for ways to give back,” said Lt. David Klauder. He said the department has donated bicycles in the past to organizations including the Boys and Girls Club, the Shiners Club, Sustain Coastal for the Campus Salvage Sale, and to the Coastal Cycles program here on campus.
“It feels good to be able to give the bicycles to a cause like this,” Valenti said. “It feels like we are able to give back to the community a little more than we already are. This is a big impact on the local homeless population.”
Everyone at New Directions agrees, from the staff to the clients. The first phase of donations was delivered on July 20 during a program kick-off celebration, and the air was full of palpable excitement and energy.
“This has greatly lifted the spirits of our clients and staff,” said Brenda Ryan, assistant director of New Directions. “It’s very exciting to tell the clients they have the opportunity now to go where they need to go. They walk right now or try to find a ride, but this is a resource that we can provide to get them where they need to be.”
Phase II of Rolling Forward will establish the free bike rental program at New Directions’ women’s shelter on Third Avenue, and Southworth said they are able to do that because of the number of bikes Public Safety was able to donate.
“We have more than enough to fill the need,” she said. The men’s shelter has 90 beds that are always full, according to Ryan, and the women’s shelter can house 24 clients.
The research Southworth’s students completed over the past two years revealed that 50 percent of the clients at New Directions say transportation is at the top of their list of needs.
“They were telling us, ‘I’ll walk to work, I want to get to work, but when I tell an employer I’m walking, I don’t get hired,’” she said. “Something as simple as a bike makes a huge difference for someone who has no transportation.”
Ryan said now clients can get not only to work, but to job interviews, to doctor’s appointments, to see their families. Current resident Michael Green said having the bike furthers the range of places he is able to go now, including the VA and to A Father’s Place in Myrtle Beach.
“It’s a big deal,” he said. “The bike makes it easier. Any help becoming more independent makes a big difference. It’s an awesome program, and it is a big deal to the people here.”
After doing some research of her own, Southworth found there are many programs like Rolling Forward across the nation, but none of them conduct follow-up research to track the program’s effectiveness. So she plans to have students in her Social Inequality and Sociology of Poverty classes in the future follow up on the program to not only see how it’s doing and if it’s working, but to continue to provide valuable experience for the students.
“It’s important for the students because they get to experience talking to people and understand the needs of a diverse population,” she said. “They don’t get that experience in other classes, and they wouldn’t have that understanding otherwise.”
Based on the findings of the students’ future research, if the program continues to work, Southworth said it justifies expanding the program to benefit more people.
“If one person is able to get a job or keep a job or get to the doctor or get to see a loved one that they wouldn’t be able to without this bike, then I’ll be happy,” she said. “That’s all we could ask for.”