SPRINGFIELD, Mo.– The summer Dennis Heiskell started living on the streets was the same summer wheels to work started offering panhandlers jobs.
“Probably around June,” he explains. “That’s the only time I’ve really flew a sign. I’ve never been through anything like this in my life.”
He says they never crossed paths.
“I would’ve asked them what the job was,” he says. “I would deal with it. I’d rather be working.”
Wes Buchholz, organizer of Wheels to Work, says of the nearly three hundred people approached by their crews, only about 50 accepted. A number he won’t call low.
“Seventeen percent actually took advantage of the services we were offering,” he says. “To have said we want to reach ‘x’ percentage of people would’ve never been realistic. We can offer things but we can’t make people take advantage of them.”
Instead, Buchholz is seeing these numbers as a study of the Springfield homeless or a study into what hurdles they need the most help crossing.
“60 percent of our clients are reporting they have a disability of some kind,” he explains. “95 percent report that housing and transportation is a huge barrier to unemployment or keeping employment.”
“I’m disabled,” Dennis says. “My back. My spine is pretty much shattered from my neck down.”
It’s those hurdles Buchholz plans to address after the project starts back up.
“We’re taking a short break to sort of reevaluate the program,” he says.
And while there’s no word yet on when that’ll be– he says one thing’s for certain: The bus is no bust.
“We learned things. Any amount of learning is a success,” Buchholz says.