MERCED -- It gives a whole new meaning to the concept of "bike to work."
A new and at least partial solution to the city's homeless problem originated with a man's desire to mobilize them so they can use bicycles to get jobs.
Wheel Solutions, a nonprofit group, has opened behind the D Street Shelter.
Matt Hirota, chairman of Wheel Solutions, wanted to come up with an idea that provided bicycle repair or replacement for homeless people in Merced. That approach would "give them the mobility needed to overcome the barriers of poverty," he said.
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Wheel Solutions falls under the Merced County Community Action Agency, which secured a grant for start-up money, Hirota said.
Su Briggs, deputy director of programs for the agency, said they worked on at least 10 bikes one recent day.
Homelessness has been a contentious issue before the City Council in recent months. The city wants to disband homeless encampments by Nov. 3, but no one really knows where the homeless can -- or will -- go.
Earlier this year, the council also voted to enforce the city's no-camping ordinance through a six-month phased implementation program.
"It's a total failure at the highest level," Hirota said. "Our solution, our approach to homeless in Merced, is a total failure."
As of January, Lori Flanders, public information officer with the Merced County Association of Governments, said the group took a visual survey of the city and found 111 homeless people walking the streets. However, she said it was during the coldest time of the year, when a lot of the homeless tend to disappear indoors.
Wheel Solutions employs one paid employee, Wayne Morris, who is homeless and serves as the bike technician.
Hirota thought of the idea for the nonprofit group while he was filming a documentary on the homeless earlier this year. He said he also lived with homeless people for one week. He said he noticed those who had bicycles.
"They could go to the DMV, the post office," he said. "It helped them a lot and it appeared they could get out of the homelessness quicker as opposed to some who didn't have transportation."