Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Homeless Ministry Gives Transportation

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Homeless Ministry Gives Transportation

Article excerpt

When friends Steve Barton and Kathy Gooch venture out from the tent they call home in Venice's woods, the bicycles they acquired through Trinity Presbyterian Church's Community Assistance Ministry have proven an invaluable tool.For Barton, 53, whose descent into homelessness was spurred by unemployment checks ending with no notice, living on the streets means one must hustle, and a bike helps."If you want to survive here, you have to go, go, go," he said. "As time goes by, the bike is critical."Barton and Gooch are but a few of the ever-expanding number of homeless in South County, where it is estimated 20 to 30 more show up each week, often to live in one of 16 known homeless camps, according to Lynette McCleland of the Center of Hope Church. Like others on the streets, Barton and Gooch walk a lot and know their bus schedules. But with Sarasota County Area Transit fares increasing last year from 75 cents to $1.25 for a one-way ride and to $50 for a 30-day pass, getting around became tougher for the homeless and others in need.They know to budget three hours to get to doctors' appointments and are chagrined that buses no longer stop at Senior Friendship Centers, where they go for many of their medical needs."The bus system down here is great in one way and it sucks in another," Barton said. "South County is treated like a red-headed stepchild. They only run once an hour and they constantly break down."Barton and Gooch had stopped by for food and supplies at Trinity's pantry a year and a half ago when they first met Jim Menzer, a Christian motorcyclist who helps run the church's ministry.He assisted the couple that first day because Gooch, 49, has asthma and living in the woods led to frequent late-night ambulance trips. Menzer suggested coffee as a way to deal with it and Gooch, a regular coffee drinker, felt better quickly. Barton and Gooch each received bicycles."It's a girl's bike, but that doesn't bother me," Barton said. "It's a bike."It was another success for the ministry and Menzer, who estimates more than 60 bikes have been given away."It's a form of freedom for them," Menzer said. "Where once they were forced to go by foot, and bus passes are great, but that may be coming to an end soon, so bicycles become even more important. …

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