Eight bicyclists arrived in Elkins Monday on their journey across West Virginia to Washington, D.C., in order to raise money and awareness for homeless veterans.
The bicyclists reached their halfway point as they arrived at the First United Methodist Church in Elkins at 4:30 p.m. Monday.
The riders began their 425-mile ride on Saturday at the start/finish line of The Herald Dispatch West Virginia 5K in downtown Huntington. Bryan Chambers, a member of the ride, said the group departed Huntington with 30 riders accompanying them to Charleston. All of the riders wore jerseys to show support for a military branch that they or a member of their family had served in.
The Inter-Mountain photo by Anna Patrick
Eight bicyclists stop in Elkins for an overnight stay at the United Methodist Church as they journey from Huntington to Washington, D.C., to raise money and awareness for homeless veterans.
"We had a lot of people join us," Chambers said.
The riders will complete their six-day travel by meeting U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., at the Vietnam War Memorial in the nation's capital. While in Washington, D.C., the cyclists also will visit with U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., to discuss issues facing homeless veterans and the efforts directed toward helping them. Chambers and fellow member of the ride, Bill Hill, said they will ask West Virginia's elected officials to continue the funding for homeless veteran programs and discuss ways to get communities more involved.
After conducting a point-in-time survey in January of 2011, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs found that 67,495 veterans were homeless in the United States on a single night. Although that figure is 12 percent lower than the 76,329 count of 2010, Hill said the homeless veterans issue is far from being eradicated completely. Because of the suffering economy and many returning servicemen and women from Iraq and Afghanistan, Hill and Chambers said that solving the homeless veterans issue is not going to get any easier.
However, the riders and the many donors who have contributed are not giving up. As they travel across the state, the riders hope their efforts help gain awareness about the issue and help to inspire more individuals to get involved with finding permanent housing for the men and women who have served their country.
Since fundraising efforts began in February, the cyclists set their sights on raising $6,000. By March, the goal had already been reached and, Chambers said, at the time of their arrival in Elkins the effort has raised $24,000.
Chambers said the group started to feel the burn Monday while traveling up the inclines to reach Elkins from Sutton. Although the team has reached the halfway point of the journey, members expect the second half to be the more challenging ride as they face many mountainous climbs. Today the group will bike from Elkins to Petersburg, and from Petersburg they will travel to Front Royal, Va., on Wednesday before entering Washington, D.C., Thursday.
Considering that the group has covered 212 miles in three days, Chambers said, "We're all doing pretty well."
Along their journey, the riders have slept at United Methodist churches in Clendenin and Sutton. The modest sleeping arrangements are selected on purpose to remind the riders of the plight of homeless veterans in West Virginia.
Of the eight riders, three are veterans. The oldest member of the group, Harvey Morrison, 71, along with Jim Rife and Julian Berry have all served in the military. For most of the group, cycling has been an important part of their lives for many years. The riders range in age from 35 to 71 and Chambers said, "This is a sport that we love."
All proceeds raised for homeless veterans will go to the Veteran Affairs' Homeless Veterans Resource Center. Chambers said the resource center is not a homeless shelter, but instead focuses on providing veterans with the information and skills they need to find permanent housing and become employed. Donations collected will help homeless veterans in a myriad of ways including bus passes for transportation, air mattresses and home-starter kits that include dishes, silverware, pots, pans, cooking utensils, bathroom necessities and cleaning supplies.
Because of the efforts of the cycling crew, the Resource Center has established a goal to find permanent housing for at least 50 homeless veterans in 2012.
All donations should be mailed to: Homeless Veterans Resource Center (Attn: LeeAnn Bills, bike ride), 624 9th St., Huntington, WV 25701. Checks should be made out to "VA Volunteer Services" with the memo line titled "Homeless Program Ride."