By: Christa Meland
It used to take John half a day to walk from one end of town to the other—which made it difficult for him to work a full day. But thanks to the Dignity Center at Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church, he has a newly restored bicycle that’s helping him to get around faster and work more hours.
John is currently homeless and spends most of his nights sleeping outside of Minneapolis Community and Technical College. But he is an experienced house painter and has had a number of painting jobs lined up over the past several months. Until he got the bike, he was limited in the number of hours he could work because it took so long to get to each job site. Now, it takes him just 20 minutes to get most places.
“The bike is freedom,” he said, adding that he can now finish one painting job and move on to the next one much more quickly, thus improving his financial situation. “I can get anywhere I want.”
The Dignity Center supports people in poverty by assigning them an advocate who meets with them regularly and helps them set and achieve goals; it also provides participants access to a wide variety of resources to help them achieve stability—including on-site lawyers (who volunteer their time) and a nurse.
Last year, Hennepin Avenue and several other Minneapolis churches formed a partnership with Project Life-Cycle in Chanhassen, whose mission is to provide free bikes to anyone who needs one. The churches collect used bicycles a couple of times each year and then give those bikes to Project Life-Cycle, which in turn provides them with restored bikes to distribute to people like John. Project Life-Cycle has already turned over 25 restored bikes and has agreed to give the churches another 25 by the end of the summer.
When Hennepin staff gave John his bike, they also provided him with a bike helmet and a bike lock. The Neurological Association donated helmets for each bike, and a downtown consortium of congregations (that includes Hennepin Avenue) provided a grant that pays for U-locks.
“The greatest thing about the bike program is that it provides transportation autonomy,” said Mary Martin, director of outreach at Hennepin Avenue UMC and leader of its Dignity Center.
Martin said the average homeless person walks 13 miles each day, and it’s difficult to secure a job without a reliable method of transportation. Bikes are now one more service that the Dignity Center is able to provide to those in transition.
Last year, the Dignity Center served 1,100 individuals, 400 of whom were engaged with an advocate and about 88 of whom made progress toward their goals. Advocates work with participants on stability skills such as problem solving, decision-making, organization, and budgeting. Progress is measured as improved housing, increased finances, completed education or training, employment, and a supportive community.
The Dignity Center used to be housed in a hallway located inside of Hennepin Avenue UMC. But in January, it moved to a large building next to the church that used to serve as the parsonage.
Martin said participants feel at home in the former parsonage and have taken ownership of it by helping to care for and maintain it.
Each morning, they can stop by for a hot breakfast as they enjoy hospitality and build community with other participants, staff, and volunteers—and advocates are always there to meet with those who stop by. Because of the increased space that the former parsonage provides, several Dignity Center partners have moved into the space—including Goodwill-Easter Seals, the Minnesota Brain Injury Alliance, a veterans’ benefits group, and a representative from MNsure online health insurance marketplace.
“We can do more together,” said Martin.
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church