Program helps change the lives of homeless vets

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KING5.com

Posted on June 4, 2013 at 6:42 PM

Updated Tuesday, Jun 4 at 7:00 PM

For homeless veterans, mobility and self-esteem can be the two biggest obstacles to getting their lives back. A new program started by an Olympia man and his brother-in-law aims to fix both of those problems.

It’s called VetBikes, and gives high-end, customized bikes to veterans both to get them where they need to go and to aid in their recovery from disabilities.

“With this kind of resource available, this many parts in the Puget sound area, this many bikes that are sitting in garages gathering dust, I think it’s just the right thing to do,” said co-founder Andy Newman, who is himself a retired Air Force pilot and bike enthusiast.

They started giving away bikes last July and have since given more than 60 veterans bikes built entirely of donated parts. Many of the bikes are worth thousands of dollars, but Newman believes it’s important to give veterans something dependable and something they can be proud of.

“Why we spend so much time, hours on each bike, is to give them something that’s shiny and looks good and is solid, we want them to know that they’re loved.”

About every month, he pays a visit to the Building 9 for Veterans Transitional Housing Program in Retsil to deliver bikes to recovering homeless veterans.

“They always want to know, ‘Well when’s the bicycle guy coming back?’” jokes program director Ray Switzer.  “The freedom of the cool breeze blowing in your face while you’re riding along the waterfront is a big deal, a lot bigger deal than we think it would be, and it has an awful lot to do with healing.”

VetBikes is always looking for more bikes and parts to give away, however they do look for middle- to upper-end bikes that are more dependable to serve the veterans.

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