Billy Young

Billy Young works on a bike in his apartment. Photo by John Bailey

BY CARMEN SIERING

Bloomington is a bike town and it’s common to see people riding bikes for recreation and sport, and even as a means of transportation. But for some folks, having a bike means a whole lot more. That’s something Billy Young understands.

“When I was homeless, I had a couple of jobs and the biggest obstacle was getting to them,” Young says. “A bicycle can be an answer. Maybe just a stepping-stone answer, but an answer so that people can start to get back on their feet again.”

In August, Young was presented with the Outstanding Resident Volunteer Award by the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority (IHCDA) for the work he does in salvaging, restoring, and donating bikes to the homeless. Young qualified for the award as a resident of Crawford Apartments, an IHCDA-sponsored program that provides permanent supportive housing to those suffering long-term homelessness.

In 2011, Young found himself on the street after most of his family died and he saw little reason to live himself. He’ll be the first to admit that sliding into alcoholism caused many of his problems, and getting thrown into jail simply multiplied them. But he’ll also expound on the help he received from places like Shalom Community Center and the Interfaith Winter Shelter. That’s what the bike project is about.

“This is something I can do, something I can contribute for what they did for me,” Young says.

The bike project started a couple of years ago after Young got a part-time job at New Leaf New Life and saw that many recently released inmates didn’t have transportation. He started looking for abandoned bikes and collecting tools to work on them.

The project grew when a caseworker from Shalom helped him apply for a $500 grant to purchase tools and locks. He recently received another grant of 25 bikes that were refurbished by prison inmates, something that satisfies his sense of symmetry. “It’s really relevant considering how this all started at New Leaf New Life,” he says.

These days, Young is sober, has a job at the Monroe County Habitat for Humanity ReStore, and volunteers for several organizations that work with the homeless. He’s also a musician and a songwriter. His song “Are You Just a Dream?” is about the people who made his journey to sobriety and into a home of his own possible. “Because this all seems too good to be true,” Young says. “I know I’m one of the lucky ones.”

WEB EXCLUSIVE:  Watch this video of Young singing one of his songs:

Video by John Bailey and Collin Dame