In 2010, Charles “Seven” McClain, 43, lost his home, car and a majority of his possessions in the face of unemployment.
“I fell to the bottom of the barrel,” McClain said, as he recalled the start of his five-year battle with homelessness. His breath billowed like smoke in the wintry morning air as he stood awaiting access to a bike pump at Friendship Park – a local gathering spot for area homeless people.
Along with his wife and their three Chihuahuas, McClain lives behind the couple’s storage unit, in a camp along the American River Parkway – several miles from his routine destinations. Like many faced with homelessness throughout Sacramento, McClain relies almost entirely on his bicycle, a white and royal blue Mongoose, to get where he needs to go – particularly his job at a local recycling center.
McClain’s bike can be as much of a curse as it is a blessing. With its constant exposure to the elements and extensive use on rough or unpaved roads, his bike endures flat tires and other mechanical issues on a near weekly basis.
“Every day is a struggle when you’re homeless,” said McClain’s wife, Cindy Reece, 45 – and finding the time and resources it takes to repair a bicycle adds unnecessary stress for him.
But at Friendship Park, McClain can catch a break.
Operated by nonprofit Loaves & Fishes, which helps feed and provide essential services to homeless people, Friendship Park loans individuals like McClain necessary bike repair tools, such as tire “patch” kits and bike pumps. The park also offers morning pastries and coffee, lunch vouchers, and access to showers while individuals await their bike’s repair.
Larry Gray, a Loaves & Fishes employee who once experienced homelessness, serves as the park’s “bike guy.”
“When I was homeless, my only means of transportation was a bicycle,” Gray said. “Keeping it up in running order was really important and I know the homeless here are in that same boat. A lot of them really don’t have the resources or money for repair tools, others aren’t too good at fixing bikes, so it’s rewarding to help.”
As a means to give back, Gray works to loan out repair tools and provide individuals with assistance in fixing their bicycles. He even fixes the tires of wheelchairs and wagon carts.
“For a homeless person, bikes are a lot more than just a ride along the river, they are necessity of life,” said Sister Libby Fernandez, Loaves & Fishes’ executive director. “Often, if an individual is not in a shelter, they use their bike to carry their belongings and gear. Bikes allow them to come here to eat, to do business, to access services.”
Book of Dreams readers have been asked to help 300 homeless people stay mobile by purchasing compact bike tire repair kits – otherwise known as patch kits – for Loaves & Fishes to distribute at Friendship Park.
“Receiving a patch kit for a bicycle is the biggest gift in the world for a homeless person in Sacramento,” Fernandez said. “It’s more than just transportation, it means survival.”
Needed: 300 compact bike tire repair kits to be distributed at Friendship Park for homeless people
Here’s a list of wishes published so far in the series:
Dream: Funds are sought to help pay for items for Melissa Oliver’s wedding. Oliver’s father, Danny, a Sacramento County sheriff’s deputy, was killed in the line of duty in October 2014.
Needed: Wedding dress, groom suit and cake
Dream: Next Move’s Family Shelter seeks funds to supply clothing to comfort homeless children.
Needed: Pajamas, socks and underwear
Dream: My Sister’s Café, a branch of the nonprofit My Sister’s House, needs work apparel for its workers.
Needed: New aprons and uniform T-shirts
Dream: Funding for blanket-making equipment for the Elk Grove-based Gramma’s Hugs Factory
Needed: Three special sewing machines
Dream: Funds to purchase supplies for cognitive stimulation activities for adults with disabilities served by nonprofit Health for All
Needed: Art and music supplies, including a karaoke machine
Dream: Funds for a Rifton Pacer Gait Trainer for United Cerebral Palsy of Sacramento and Northern California. The device helps people with disabilities gain more mobility
Dream: Southside Art Center seeks money to purchase equipment and attire for employees in its recycling center program
Dream: My Mother’s Voice, a Roseville-based nonprofit that serves young, single mothers, requests funds to purchase beds, mattresses, sheets, pillows and other necessities.