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The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

Student to bike across U.S. building affordable homes

In January 2015, close to 570,000 people were homeless on a given night, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness. To help create affordable housing for those in need, senior Nathan Are has decided to spend the upcoming summer with twenty-nine other young adults on a cross country service-oriented cycling trip through Bike & Build. The organization, partnered with Habitat for Humanity, helps young adults contribute to affordable housing projects and create positive change in communities all across the United States.
Over the course of 76 days, Are and 29 other riders will make their way from Virginia to Oregon on bicycles. Once a week, they will stop at a community in need and spend the day working on an affordable housing project, directed by a site coordinator from Habitat for Humanity.

Are originally became interested in affordable housing two summers ago when he was working at a church in Charlotte, North Carolina. He acted as a liaison between middle school groups and various nonprofits, many of which were involved in affordable housing causes. Working with these groups, he learned about the domino effect that homelessness can impose on someone’s life.

“What’s common is that once you don’t have the stability of a home, then other issues become larger. Like if you’re worried about your own safety on the streets, that’s going to take a huge psychological toll, and you might slip into a drinking problem or depression or other mental and physical difficulties,” Are says. “This project matters to me because I feel like I’m addressing the root cause.”

Taking part in one of these trips is no simple matter. To get a spot on a team, each person must raise $4,500, which goes directly into affordable housing causes and keeping Bike & Build afloat. To acquire these funds, people have hosted trivia nights, put on variety shows and even ridden stationary bikes on street corners and solicited donations from passersby. The son of a pastor, Are was able to reach out to his network back in Kansas City and get most of his donations through generous church folk.

Riders also have to do at least 500 miles of training to make sure they’re physically prepared to make the trek. But Are feels one also needs great mental preparation for the journey.

“Biking across the country is a daunting task, and it’s going to be exhausting and stressful. Learning how to push through these sorts of challenges is going to be incredibly important for making any sort of social change,” Are says. “Having the stamina to get up and work hard, even when you don’t always want to, is key.”

Another qualification is being educated on two of the communities the team will be passing through, and being prepared to explain how the affordable housing cause is affecting them. You also have to obtain what Are refers to as “sweat equity” by putting in ten hours of volunteer work into your local affording housing agency. Are will be teaching his peers about how the homelessness crisis is affecting Charlottesville, Virginia and St. Francis, Kansas.

In short, everyone earns their spot. Though he self-describes as a “fair-weather biker,” Are stresses that this isn’t a trip for fair-weather activists. Biking is an independent and empowering mode of travel, and everyone has to pull their own weight, both physically on the bicycle and at the work sites. Are says that was a big reason he chose this particular kind of activism. He is looking forward to the tangible sense of progress it will provide.

“Cycling is very clearly doing something. Every day, you’re getting on the bike going somewhere; you’re gonna end up in a new place and meet new people along the way,” Are says.

He’s excited by the opportunity to meet new people and form strong bonds with them. He believes that these connections will make everyone more invested. He’s also hoping that the time away from his daily routine might provide some guidance for his approaching post-college life. But above all, his commitment to the cause is what’s driving him.

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