Marine Corp Veteran Timothy Thacker and Army Veteran Milton Twitty overcame homelessness only to face another challenge: a long and complicated commute to work in rural Southwest Virginia.
For Thacker, the bus ride and walk to his job took about 50 minutes. Twitty’s commute to his night-shift job often took 35 minutes and longer after his shift that ends at 5 a.m.
This situation concerned Tanyia Jones, the health care for homeless Veterans coordinator and Dominic Austin, community employment coordinator for Salem VA Medical Center. Both work to find housing and competitive employment for Veterans in the Roanoke Valley and other nearby towns. Paul Powell also knows firsthand how valuable an effective mode of transportation can be. He was liberated from homelessness through recovery and employment with a bike being the “link in the chain of progress” that led him to working as a peer support specialist at Salem VA Medical Center.
Jones knows there are barriers to affordable and reliable transportation facing many Veterans who are looking for work or are already working and do not have the resources available for transportation. “My thought was ‘Is there an easier way to help Veterans’ with their daily commute?’” Jones said.
Making the commute to work and around town easier
From this notion — and building on a similar campaign that was done between Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System and Goodwill Industries of Central Alabama — sprouted “Bikes for Vets,” a bicycle donation drive organized by the Salem VA and Goodwill Industries of the Valleys. Starting April 2 and continuing through the end of the month, donations of new and gently used bikes are accepted at the Goodwill site in Salem for distribution to Veterans seeking transportation to and from work.
“Innovative projects such as the Bikes for Vets Campaign help to mitigate this barrier and pave the way for increased independence and integration into the local community,” said Carma Heitzmann, Ph.D, director of VA’s Homeless Veteran Community Employment Services program.
“This will cut down my commute time tremendously,” Twitty said, adding that it will also help with running errands and getting groceries.
Two wheels moving forward
“We know the good work the Salem VA Medical Center does to help homeless Veterans achieve self-sufficiency and a great future,” said Mary Ann Gilmer, vice president of mission services for Goodwill Industries of the Valleys. “When the VA brought this project concept to us, we loved it and were excited to participate. We appreciate the generosity of those in our community who have donated to provide a transportation option for Veterans in need. Here at Goodwill, we strive to help individuals in our community get the supports they need to re-enter the workforce or find a better job. Bikes for Vets has been a great way to support Veterans who have sacrificed so much for us through their service to our Nation. We’re proud to be part of the Bikes for Vets campaign.”
Donating a bicycle
Goodwill is accepting bike donations Monday through Saturday until April 30 at Goodwill bike donation site in Salem, VA and readied for VA pickup. The bicycles will be donated to Veterans during VA’s annual VA2K event scheduled for Wednesday, May 16.
The Bikes for Vets donation campaign is a natural extension of Goodwill’s existing work with VA to employ Veterans who have recently transitioned out of homelessness with help of programs like Housing and Urban Development-VA Supportive Housing and VA’s Homeless Veterans Community Employment Services, which support the work of CECs like Dominic Austin.
Gilmer hopes the Bikes for Vets drive will inspire other Goodwill locations to partner with VA medical centers throughout the country on similar initiatives to help homeless Veterans get the transportation they need. Salem VA Medical Center’s collaborating partner Salem VA Credit Union has secured funding to buy helmets for the bike recipients.
“This partnership between Goodwill and Salem VA Medical Center is a perfect example of the way that community partners are able to contribute to the goal of ending homelessness among Veterans,” said Rebecca Stackhouse, director for Salem VA Medical Center. “By teaming up,” she added, “Goodwill is providing a way for Veterans that have barriers to transportation to get to work and around town.”
For More Information
- Visit VA’s website to learn about employment initiatives and other programs for Veterans exiting homelessness.
- Find a Goodwill bike donation site.
- Refer Veterans who are homeless or at imminent risk of becoming homeless to their local VA Medical Center, where VA staff are ready to assist, or urge them to call 1-877-4AID-VET (1-877-424-3838).
Brett Robbins is an Army Veteran serving as a public affairs officer for the Salem VA Medical Center.