Bicycles take on new life

Ministry bike shop aims to aid homeless clients, community

By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter

Published:

 

Douglas Jewell, 53, sits in a new bicycle repair and retail shop at Vancouver’s Open House Ministries homeless mission and loosens some corroded gears on a blue Schwinn touring bike to make it road-ready.

“Somebody probably left it in a barn or outside, and the gears froze up,” Jewell says. “I’m fixing it up, so it’s a good, safe, functional bike when it goes through those doors. It’ll be almost like new when we sell it.”

The proceeds from the sale will go toward supporting the homeless shelter, which provides a safe place to live and job training for about 300 homeless families each year, says Viki Landsverk, the shelter’s operations manager.

Before Jewell began volunteering at the bicycle shop, he hadn’t held a job in two decades.

Wheel Deals

• What: A bike repair and retail shop that raises money for Open House Ministries homeless family shelter.

• Where: 915 W. 13th St., Suite 3.

• Hours: 1 to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

• Information: 360-737-0300; http://www.sheltered.org.

“I volunteer here to try to get job experience, so I can put it on my résumé. I came into an inheritance about 25 years ago. It should’ve lasted the rest of my life, but it didn’t.”

Named Wheel Deals, the bike shop at 915 W. 13th St. Suite 3 is the mission’s latest effort to raise money for the nonprofit organization’s operations while providing clients with job training and work experience. The shop opened in early June with about eight workers, all mission residents, and has repaired and sold about 100 bikes so far.

“All of the bikes are donated to us,” says Mark Roskam, a mission case manager. “Some of them need a lot of work. That was our idea to get some residents here to learn some of those skills.”

Mission resident Amanda Zychowicz says selling bikes at the shop has helped her to brush up on her sales and promotional skills. She’s looking for a job, along with her husband, a former chef who was laid off two years ago and ran out of unemployment benefits. They live at the shelter with their two children.

The bikes typically retail for $25 to $75 apiece.

“A lot of people need that transportation to a job or a job interview,” says Ruben Cortez, the mission’s donation room supervisor. “We provide a less expensive way to get there.”

In October, the shelter opened Second Hand Solutions thrift store in suites 4 and 5 at the same address as the bike shop. Both the thrift store and bike shop are based on the concept of raising money for the mission while giving job training to residents. The mission, which has capacity for more than 100 people at any given time, operates on a budget of about $750,000 per year. It has 30 rooms, accepts only families with children and doesn’t place a limit on clients’ stay at the shelter.

Roskam and Cortez came up with the idea for the bicycle shop because they noticed a gap in the Vancouver market for discounted used bicycles. Roskam says Wheel Deals charges about a third of what other shops charge for repairs.

“We thought we had a nice niche here to do something for the community,” Roskam says.

Downtown Vancouver’s Bad Monkey Bikes, Board & Skate has donated bikes to the mission shop and provides parts for repairs, Roskam says. The shop also accepts donations from the community.

Jewell said he hopes to use his work experience at the shop to find a paying job.

Four months ago when Jewell, his wife and three children had nothing left to live on, they turned to the shelter. Since they moved in, Jewell’s wife has found work with a cleaning service. Her job will allow them to move into their own apartment next week.

“I put in a lot of job applications last year, and when I contacted employers, they said the reason they didn’t hire me was no job experience,” Jewell says. “This will be a good reference. I’ll keep working here until I get a job.”