Updated: 04/27/2011 12:00:44 PM EDT
For one week, Chris Fitz will simulate the transient life of the homeless, stopping at shelters and community agencies around central Pennsylvania.
And he’s doing it astride a bicycle.
Fitz, 38, of Marietta plans to depart from Harrisburg May 1 for the five-county tour — a project he hopes will draw attention to local homelessness.
“This is an opportunity to cover ground in the region and raise awareness in a really simple way,” said Fitz, who grew up in Lower Windsor Township and now works at a transitional-housing ministry in Harrisburg.
“Also, part of it is to experience homelessness for myself and invite others to join me — even if just for a night . . . sleeping on the floor somewhere, eating scrappy food.”
Behind his 1994 Bridgestone racing bike, Fitz will pull a supply-laden trailer wrapped in cardboard signs urging people to “remember homeless are people, too.”
An experienced cyclist who commutes 50-miles roundtrip to work, Fitz expects to cover roughly 250 miles over eight days. He’ll update supporters on Facebook and on the website of his employer, the Brethren Housing Association.
Otherwise, Fitz will keep a low-tech, low-cost profile, living on no more than $10 a day for meals, cooking on a camping stove and sleeping on the floors of churches across the region.
“Although we’ll visit them, we won’t stay in shelters, partly because we don’t want to displace shelter space,” he said.
Fitz plans to meet with community leaders involved with homelessness and, some days, hold news conferences to highlight the homeless situations in each locale, he said.
In York County, Fitz hopes to connect with George Barnock, community development coordinator for the York County Planning Commission, who said the county has seen an increase in the number of “nonsheltered” homeless within the last two years.
“We do have a large population of chronically homeless, who are continuously homeless for a year or more, or had four episodes of homelessness in the last three years,” said Barnock, citing a survey conducted Jan. 27.
“That does say something — whether or not we’re not reaching out to them or for the past year they’ve not (been) aware of where to go.”
Agencies that provide services to the area homeless used to collaborate more closely but haven’t formally planned together since 2005, Barnock said. His office and others have proposed establishing a coalition on homelessness to remedy the problem.
“We’re trying to get that local planning process back — and that doesn’t just include our (service) providers, but the health care network, the council of churches, the criminal justice network and others,” he said.
“We kind of lost that touch, so we’re trying to gather support and get people connected again.”
Fitz kicks off his bicycle tour during a block party Sunday at the BHA, which works to help homeless families — primarily single mothers and children — find stable housing.
Through BHA, families receive housing in Harrisburg and case-management services while they pursue education, learn parenting skills, get a driver’s license, etc.
The BHA, founded in 1989 by Church of the Brethren congregations, is supported by volunteers from many denominations. An ongoing capital campaign seeks to raise $2.25 million to meet increased demand for transitional housing.
Fitz will set up an encampment in York at 3 p.m. Wednesday before hosting a downtown news conference at 4. Later, he’ll lead a 7 p.m. educational program at the Friends Meetinghouse, 135 W. Philadelphia St., followed by a reflection in the Quaker tradition.
Fitz welcomes other riders joining him during the tour.