City’s bike-share pro­gram a life­line

Sys­tem is be­ing ser­viced by home­less vet­er­ans

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Colin Campbell

Around the Bal­ti­more Sta­tion in SharpLead­en­hall, Ivan Bay­lor is known as “Bike Man.”

The 59-year-old Army vet­eran from Dun­dalk lives at the con­verted fire­house in South Bal­ti­more that serves as a dru­gad­dic­tion treat­ment cen­ter for home­less men, many of them vet­er­ans.

The nick­name comes from his job: Bay­lor is one of the 10 home­less vets at the Sta­tion who were hired by Bal­ti­more-based Corps Lo­gis­tics, a vet­eran-owned firm, to in­stall the city’s bike-share sys­tem that launched two weeks ago. He’s one of four who have been kept on full-time to main­tain the bi­cy­cles.

“It’s beau­ti­ful. It’s re­ally spe­cial for me, to go out and do some­thing con­struc­tive all day,” he said. “I know the next day I have

some­thing pos­i­tive to do. I’ve got a job.”

Each day, Bay­lor drives a van around to the pro­gram’s ini­tial 20 sta­tions to make sure all the bikes work, switch out any that don’t, and add or sub­tract bikes to make sure none of the sta­tions have too many or too few.

Dur­ing the sys­tem’s roll-out, he’s fol­low­ing a pickup truck driven by Corps Lo­gis­tics owner Jim Duffney, an Air Force vet­eran and a mem­ber of the New Jersey Air Na­tional Guard, with a trailer car­ry­ing more bikes and a power gen­er­a­tor. Duffney said he’s groom­ing Bay­lor to take the lead on the rounds and even­tu­ally work with an ap­pren­tice of his own. Other vets work in the pro­gram’s call cen­ter.

“That’s the goal,” Duffney said. “You em­power them.”

When Bay­lor, a heavy ma­chin­ery spe­cial­ist, re­turned in 1984 from his sec­ond tour over­seas in the Army, he was trau­ma­tized.

He’d never been much of a drinker be­fore, but he found him­self wak­ing up reg­u­larly stink­ing of the gin he drank to ward off his lone­li­ness and the grue­some mem­ory of see­ing a man hit by a speed­ing tank in South Korea.

Af­ter an hon­or­able dis­charge, Bay­lor got a job with Bal­ti­more City as a heavy equip­ment op­er­a­tor, driv­ing bull­doz­ers, dump trucks, fork­lifts and other con­struc­tion ve­hi­cles. But he was fired in 2008, when he was caught sip­ping booze on the job.

Bay­lor spent the next seven years in a down­ward spi­ral. He’d put on a shirt and tie for a job in­ter­view, then pick up a bot­tle of liquor when he was re­jected. In March 2015, he lost his house in Tow­son and be­gan liv­ing with his mother and his sis­ter.

Bay­lor’s drink­ing sup­pressed his ap­petite, and he dwin­dled to a gaunt 110 pounds. His mem­ory be­gan to fail, too. His mother would send him to the store to buy gro­ceries; he’d re­turn hours later, hav­ing for­got­ten the orig­i­nal er­rand.

Even­tu­ally he reached a break­ing point. He went to the Vet­er­ans Af­fairs of­fice and asked to be placed into a re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion pro­gram.

On June 6, 2015, he walked Jim Duffney, mov­ing a Bal­ti­more Bike Share bike into a rack near the Bal­ti­more Visi­tors Cen­ter, is the owner of Corps Lo­gis­tics, the com­pany that op­er­ates the pro­gram. A vet­eran, he is a mem­ber of the New Jersey Air Na­tional Guard. through the door of Bal­ti­more Sta­tion.

“June 5 was my last drink,” he said.

Duffney’s com­pany, with its mil­i­tary-style cul­ture, is a nat­u­ral fit for the home­less vet­er­ans who are do­ing well at the treat­ment cen­ter, said Bal­ti­more Sta­tion ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor John Friedel.

“Our men­re­late to him well,” he said. “For the vet­er­ans, work­ing with a vet­eran-owned busi­ness, where the peo­ple un­der­stand the path and jour­ney these peo­ple have been on, is help­ful.”

Work­ing for Corps Lo­gis­tics pro­vides both au­ton­omy and a fa­mil­iar sup­port sys­tem for the men work­ing to re-en­ter so­ci­ety from treat­ment, Friedel said.

“They tran­si­tion through our net­work and our brother­hood to an­other one that’s safe and un­der­stand­ing,” he said.

The work of re­pair­ing bi­cy­cles also aligns well with the tech­ni­cal skills vet­er­ans of­ten have picked up dur­ing their time in the mil- itary, Friedel said.

“Be­ing able to see some­thing from in­cep­tion to com­ple­tion, task-ori­ented work, is some­thing that res­onated with a lot of guys,” he said.

More than a few vet­er­ans strug­gle with post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der, trau­matic brain in­juries and other men­tal health prob­lems and drug ad­dic­tion as they move into civil­ian life and try to find a job, said Jef­frey Ken­drick, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor for the Mary­land Cen­ter for Vet­er­ans Ed­u­ca­tion and Train­ing.

“There can be sex­ual trauma, phys­i­cal abuse, men­tal abuse — all sorts of bar­ri­ers that can pre­vent a per­son from be­ing a sta­ble em­ployee,” he said.

Ken­drick com­mended Corps Lo­gis­tics for rec­og­niz­ing the home­less vet­er­ans’ po­ten­tial.

“Ev­ery vet­eran that comes through your door has a skill,” he said.

Jonathan Schet­tino, a psy­chol­o­gist who treats vet­er­ans at his pri­vate prac­tice in Mount Ver­non, said those with men­tal ill­ness or drug ad­dic­tion can have an in­cred­i­bly dif­fi­cult time mus­ter­ing the ef­fort and or­ga­ni­za­tion to get and main­tain a steady job.

Cog­ni­tive be­hav­ioral ther­apy, med­i­ca­tion and a va­ri­ety of other treat­ments can help, he said.

“It’s about get­ting vet­er­ans con­nected to those re­sources so they can be­gin to work on those men­tal health prob­lems that a lot of them face at dis­pro­por­tion­ate rates, un­for­tu­nately,” Schet­tino said.

Be­fore Duffney and Bay­lor make their daily rounds, Duffney checks his Bal­ti­more Bike Share mo­bile app, which shows how many bikes are at each sta­tion at any given time. He notes which ones are most im­bal­anced; one of their main jobs is to re­dis­tribute the bikes so there are enough bi­cy­cles and open spa­ces at each sta­tion.

One morn­ing this week, they loaded the bikes into their ve­hi­cles from the Corps Lo­gis­tics lot on Water­view Av­enue in West­port, and headed for the clos­est sta­tion, at the McHenry Row shop­ping cen­ter.

They checked each bike, un­lock­ing it from the sta­tion and mon­i­tor­ing the bat­tery life of the on­board GPS sys­tems and “Ped­elec” elec­tric-as­sisted ped­als. Most sta­tions will be hooked up to the city’s power grid by the end of the week, Duffney said, so they ex­pect to see fewer dead bat­ter­ies.

Duffney sees him­self and Bay­lor as am­bas­sadors for the bike­share pro­gram, ex­plain­ing it to cu­ri­ous passers-by, show­ing them how to sign up and giv­ing them free trial rides on the new bikes.

They struck up a con­ver­sa­tion with Alex Ku­kich, 30, of Lo­cust Point as he passed by at McHenry Row. A minute later, Ku­kich was on one of the Ped­elec bikes, rid­ing it around the block and up through a park­ing garage to try it out.

“It’s awe­some,” said Ku­kich, who works at the video ad­ver­tis­ing firm Vide­ol­ogy. “It’s fun, it’s clean, it’s dif­fer­ent.”

When he re­turned, Duffney showed him how to sign up for a bike-share mem­ber­ship. Duffney is con­fi­dent most peo­ple who try the bikes once will use them again.

“We need to sell the prod­uct,” he said. “Once you ride the bike, you’re golden.”

The bike-share pro­gram is funded by a $2.36 mil­lion city con­tract with Cana­dian bi­cy­cle man­u­fac­turer Bewe­gen Tech­nolo­gies. Corps Lo­gis­tics serves as a sub­con­trac­tor that pro­vides assem­bly and main­te­nance ser­vices. By the spring, the num­ber of bi­cy­cles in the grow­ing sys­tem is ex­pected to dou­ble to 500. As a re­sult, Duffney said, he ex­pects to in­crease em­ploy­ment to about 12 to 15 vet­er­ans.

He also ex­pects the op­er­a­tion to con­tinue to grow as Bewe­gen launches ad­di­tional bike-share pro­grams in Rich­mond and Nor­folk, Va., which Corps Lo­gis­tics will ser­vice from Bal­ti­more.

Bay­lor smiles with pride when he sees the bike sta­tions around the city. He laughs when the other men at the Sta­tion holler at him: “What up, Bike Man?”

“I’m back work­ing,” he said. “It’s a real good feel­ing.”

KIM HAIRSTON/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

Ivan Bay­lor, an Army vet­eran who is liv­ing in a drug-ad­dic­tion treat­ment cen­ter for home­less men, puts a Bal­ti­more Bike Share bike into a rack at McHenry Row.

KIM HAIRSTON/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

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