Politics & Government

Wichita police to match homeless riders with homeless bikes

Wichita police Officer Nate Schwiethale gives Steve Weathers, right, a free LED bicycle light at United Methodist Open Door in October. Schwiethale is a member of the Police Homeless Outreach Team.
Wichita police Officer Nate Schwiethale gives Steve Weathers, right, a free LED bicycle light at United Methodist Open Door in October. Schwiethale is a member of the Police Homeless Outreach Team. File photo

Bicycles seized or found by the Wichita Police Department will soon be recycled as transportation for the city’s homeless population.

The City Council voted this week to give first pick of abandoned and recovered bikes to the police Homeless Outreach Team, which works to help homeless people find jobs, places to live and increased stability in their lives.

“Instability comes from, part of it comes from, lack of transportation going to and from jobs and so forth,” said police Capt. Scott Heimerman.

City ordinance now requires any recovered bikes to be sold at auction with proceeds going to the Police Benefit Fund, a nonprofit that provides assistance to police officers and their families struck by illness, accidents or death.

The city recovers between 200 and 300 bikes a year, generating $3,000 to $6,000 a year for the fund, Heimerman said.

Most recovered bikes can’t be matched with their rightful owners because the owners didn’t record a serial number or other identifying information, he said.

The idea of diverting those bikes for use by the homeless came from Alan Kailer, a board member of Bike Walk Wichita.

In a letter to the council proposing the project, Kailer said the group has already started taking donated bikes, repairing them, and then turning them over to the HOT officers for distribution.

He noted that a recent city auction of 25 bikes brought in only $302.

“Other cities have found that the cost of personnel and facilities to manage, store, collect and transport impounded bicycles exceeds the low prices the bicycles bring at a public auction and, instead of auctioning them, have partnered with nonprofits to distribute those bikes to those in need,” Kailer wrote. “Bike Walk Wichita would work with the Homeless Outreach Team as much as necessary to collect, transport, store, repair and refurbish the bicycles for distribution to the homeless.”

Most of the bikes that come in are in rough shape, Heimerman said.

In a typical scenario, someone steals a bike, rides it for a short time, then abandons it and steals another one. Many wind up in rivers and streams, where they deteriorate rapidly, Heimerman said.

The change in city ordinance will allow the HOT officers to pick through the recovered bikes before they go to auction and take out the ones they want to salvage.

Heimerman said the team is looking at only taking a few bikes out of the auction pool, so the impact on the benefit fund should be small.

Dion Lefler: 316-268-6527, @DionKansas

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