October swiftly re-introduced cold weather to Eugene residents. While some are staying indoors to stay warm, the members of Bent Spoke ride out on the bike paths.
On their Facebook, Bent Spoke describes themselves as a “grassroots humanitarian service.” The group rides along the bike paths in Eugene offering aid to the less fortunate.
Roger Jensen was working for the Eugene Mission — a nonprofit organization offering shelter and other services to the unhoused — last December when they experienced a COVID-19 outbreak that had him working long hours. “After it was all over, it was kind of an adrenaline letdown,” he said. It was then that Jensen decided to load up a trailer with supplies, attach it to his bike and start riding the bike paths looking for those in need.
Jensen said COVID-19 impacted unhoused people’s access to services. “From that first night, it didn’t take long until my trailer was empty, and I hadn’t even really ridden that far,” Jensen said.
Jensen said he realized the need for this type of aid. “We average about 140 contacts a night when we go out,” he said.
After a few trips, Jensen said he began to make nightly trips. Another member of Bent Spoke, Chuck Clearman, joined Jensen six weeks after Jensen started delivering supplies. “The worse the weather, the more inclined we were to go out,” Jensen said. He said they go out in the evenings from 6-11 p.m.
Shawn Dardis joined Bent Spoke after Clearwater, adding a total of three members to the roster. With the increased roster, Jensen said they were able to cover more ground, dividing the sections of Eugene between each other.
The days Bent Spoke are not out riding, they are filling certain requests for the unhoused or doing more extensive bike repairs. “We provide size specific clothing for people. We tell them we’ll get it to them in 22 to 48 hours,” Jensen said.
Dardis said every ride out is an adaptive situation.
“Everybody has bad days, and you don’t know if you’re rolling up on a bad day,” Clearwater said. Dardis said the rides are an ever-changing experience.
Clearwater said bringing up his own personal experiences helps ease tension when talking to the people Bent Spoke helps: “It gets people talking. It lets them know, ‘Hey, I know what you are going through.’”
Bent Spoke also partners with other programs across Eugene. Nick Furrow is the coordinator for The Way Home. According to its mission statement, The Way Home provides “direct service to people living outside.”
Furrow said The Way Home helps facilitate supplies and organize drives for supplies. When it gets supplies like tarps and blankets, he said most of those get transferred over to Bent Spoke.
“What we found is the most effective way to get resources to the very poorest, the very most vulnerable is to hand stuff off to Bent Spoke,” Furrow said. “Bent Spoke goes right to the people who are like the most suffering, the most hungry.”
Burrito Brigade is a non-profit organization in Eugene that helps deliver vegan burritos to those in need. Executive director Jennifer Denson said Bent Spoke reached out to help with distribution. “With COVID and everything, distribution was looking very different,” Denson said.
Denson said Bent Spoke helps distribute food on Saturdays and Sundays to spots on the bike paths that Burrito Brigade can’t reach.
Denson said Burrito Brigade makes about 150 burritos for Bent Spoke to pass out in addition to the 700 to 800 burritos it makes for its own distribution.
Furrow said he values the cooperation Bent Spoke has with The Way Home and other organizations. “The power of unifying service providers or making more links between them is going to be one part of the solution,” he said.
In addition to these partnerships, Jensen said Bent Spoke also has a connection with the Eugene Mission and gets supplies like clothing and blankets. “We find it best that if people want to donate material goods to donate to the Eugene Mission,” he said. “They do a great job at helping other agencies and groups like ours to help the community.”
With these donations Bent Spoke is able to overload their trailers. “If we come across an individual that just has nothing, within 5 minutes they’re gonna be warm, they’re gonna have shelter, some food and either coffee or hot chocolate,” Jensen said.
Bent Spoke set up a new headquarters at Everyone Village in west Eugene on Oct. 12. “We’re hoping to use this village as a hub as we continue our outreach,” Jensen said.
In addition to a Facebook and Twitter page, Jensen said Bent Spoke is working on releasing a website. “The website is going to be a one-stop-shop for individuals that need help to directly contact us, but also have a list of all the services available,” he said. Jensen said the website will also have updates on extreme weather conditions to give people a heads up.
Jensen said the pandemic and recent rain spells have made Bent Spoke’s efforts even more vital.
“Classic case rolled up on a young man who’s tent had just collapsed under the weather and everything he had was soaked,” he said. “In short order he had a tarp, he had dry clothes, dry blankets and some hand warmers. He was in good shape, and that’s why we ride.”