Friday, March 02, 2007

Nancy Shore on carfreedom and homelessness

In an effort to branch out in terms of content (read as: "we're running out of tips!"), we decided to contact people related to local carfree issues to ask a few questions. You're not going to find the well-balanced queries and teetering style available in interviews elsewhere, but we were inspired by the content that came out of our first effort.

Nancy Shore is the Community Relations Coordinator at SOS Community Services. She is also the most recent addition to the board of the AATA, so she has a a unique perspective on carfree life. Today, she's talking about the carfree experience of SOS consumers. Coming up soon, we'll ask her about life as an AATA board member. You can read more about her on the totter.

cfa2: We'd like to get a better idea of what carfree life is like for SOS consumers. Also, how does SOS assist and advise on transportation concerns of their clients (clients, customers, or consumers)?

Nancy: First of all, we do call the people we serve consumers. Many, many, many of them, including the families in our shelter and transitional housing program don’t have cars. And this is not a choice on their part to be environmentally friendly, etc. They just simply cannot afford to have a car.
For the families in our family shelter and in our transitional housing (which are apartment units in both Ypsi and Ann Arbor) getting around is a constant issue. We actually provide our own vans to shuttle the children to day care and the families to various programs. In addition to that, many of the families rely on the buses to get around. This can become a real issue in Ypsilanti where buses run less frequently and where there are fewer routes. It’s also a challenge because unlike Ann Arbor, Ypsi has even fewer basic amenities downtown, so it might take quite a while to take a bus to get to the grocery store and get back. I think one of the biggest challenges for many of our carfree families is that they have to go to so many places and it’s really hard to get to all of them by bus in a timely manner. They might have to go to a job and in addition might have to drop off their kids somewhere else to go to daycare and then repeat the whole thing again in the evening.
It is definitely easier for our families to be carfree in Ann Arbor because the buses run more frequently and are often close to where they live. But I know it’s not easy, and I know if many of the families could have a car, they would. But SOS does offer van transportation, which makes it more convenient for the families. And the bus system is certainly important to the families we serve.
For the families who are not homeless, but very poor (those who come in and receive food and other items from us), I know transportation is also an issue. Especially in Ypsi, it’s just harder to get around without a car. Some families have parents that are working full time and going to school, or have families where the parent is working two jobs. Relying on walking or busing to meet all these needs can be very challenging.
I think what a lot of it bowls down to is that when people do not have cars, they find other ways to get around including walking and busing. But it is not so much of a choice as something they have to do.

cfa2: carfree ann arbor is based on the idea that it is possible and not completely miserable to live without a car. Of course we usually assume that you do have a home to get back to. Certainly, being without a home makes transportation tough. Are there some specific things that make carfree transportation more difficult for SOS consumers?

I recently spoke to the case managers that deal with many of our consumers. I think the specific things that make carfree transportation tough are:
1. The fact that many of our consumers live in one city and work in another. Many of them live in Ypsilanti, but work in Ann Arbor, so they have to deal with longer bus rides (sometimes up to one hour each way) to get to where they need to go. If many of our consumers could work and live in the same community, I think it would be much easier for them to go car free.
2. Many of our consumers with children find it very hard to take them on the bus. I really need to look at some of the tips you have on carfree to see if there are some things that might make the ride more pleasurable for them. Some of our consumers have 5 kids, so it's quite daunting for them to think about taking the bus.
3. Many of our consumers don't have laundry facilities, so they have to take a bus to go to a laundromat and then get the clothing back to their apartment. This can definitely be a challenge.
4. I would say the biggest challenge is just lack of time. It takes too long for many of our consumers to take the bus everywhere. But I think that is a reflection of our need to enhance the bus system more than a reflection of them not liking to take the bus.

cfa2: Similarly, are there any carfree tips that apply especially to SOS consumers? We're fishing for tips on cfa2 that staff or consumers might be recommending. Do you ever use cfa2 as a resource at SOS?

Nancy: I think it would be really, really important for me to research this further. I think mostly staff and consumers see not having a car as a hindrance, but it doesn't have to be! I really, really want to emphasize to you that I am a strong carfree advocate. I will definitely look deeply into your website for appropriate recommendations. I could also see the possibility of a "living carfree" workshop for our consumers to see if that would help them get interested in the carfree idea.

cfa2: Do you see any particular points of connection between SOS consumers and other by-choice carfree people?

Nancy: In terms of connections between SOS consumers and other by-choice carfree people I think there are many. Some are the need to trade tips on how to deal with large loads of laundry or groceries. I think many of our families could use some tips to make their lives easier. I think another point of connection is the advocacy piece. If people who are using the system see where it can be improved, they are in a better position to make changes. I also think that anyone who is carfree no matter what the reason becomes a member of a certain community. I think if those who are carfree can do what they can to support others who are carfree, that would also be helpful. So if someone is struggling with a bunch of bags on the bus, to offer to help. Or if someone looks stranded on a bad side of the street, to try to help them get across. One of the things I have learned while working at SOS is that our consumers need to be part of a supportive community. If carfree by choice people can do their best to help carfree by need people, I think it makes this world a better place.


Nancy Shore, SOS Community Relations Coordinator said...

Thanks so much for posting this.

I find what you are trying to do inspiring and I am glad that I could participate.

I am should have something up on the SOS Blog about car free stuff in the next couple of hours.

jpt said...

I've just found your site & am catching up on older posts. This was a particularly thought-provoking piece.

I did want to echo the closing remarks on helping fellow bus riders and pedestrians. I recently spent 4 months in London and was consistently struck by how routinely, almost automatically people helped folks with baby buggies and wheeled shopping baskets get on and off the bus, up and down the Tube stairs, etc. Many times, helpers did not even trouble to ask if assistance was required--they had the buggy off the bus before any words could be spoken.

Edward Vielmetti said...

I wonder how much bicycles and (especially) bicycle cargo trailers would make a difference for people in hauling laundry and groceries around.