[Hpn] Ex-homeless couple's BICYCLE TOUR raises awareness across USA fw

Tom Boland wgcp@earthlink.net
Tue, 28 Nov 2000 17:12:57 -0800 (PST)

FWD  Associated Press - AP Wire Service - Nov 27, 2000
     Monday PMs Feature [USA]


     The Evansville Courier & Press

OWENSBORO, Ky. (AP) _ There were rows of pitched tents,
cardboard shacks and shelters made of limbs draped with plastic.

But what Owensboro native Billy Burks remembers most about the
Oregon homeless camp are the eyes of a 5-year-old girl.

She looked up at Burks, searching for answers: ``What makes
people homeless? Are my mom and dad always going to be homeless?
When I grow up and have babies, are they going to be homeless?
Isn't there something somebody can do?''

Burks didn't have the answers. But he has never forgotten the
tiny, cold face that longed for assurance that night.

``When you see little kids in a homeless camp, cold and hungry,
if your heart doesn't go out to them there's something wrong with
it,'' he said.

And that's part of the reason why Burks, 44, and his wife Nora,
34, have put aside a year of their life to bring awareness to the
plight of homeless people.

Six weeks ago, they finished a walk they began last December
that took them 1,700 miles _ from Owensboro to Santa Monica,
Calif., _ to raise awareness for homelessness.

``We know what it's like to be homeless,'' Billy Burks said.
``It hurts. One of these days, we're going to try and live the life
like we want. But that's on hold right now, that's how important
this is to us.''

The Burkses returned to Owensboro, intent on resuming jobs
they'd left behind when they began their walk. But, they felt their
campaign was not complete.

On Nov. 10, the Burkses loaded up two bicycles donated by an
Owensboro bicycle shop and started out on U.S. 231, bound for the
White House. The couple took along a list of solutions that
included opening a closed military base as a homeless shelter and
providing more government grants for existing shelters.

``People always say that homeless people are alcoholics or
drugheads, but I know an awful lot of homeless people who aren't,''
said Billy Burks. ``Everybody out there is one paycheck away from
being homeless.''

That's the way Billy Burks was.

He had a steady job with a local landscaping business that paid
$320 a week. When the company was bought out, the new owner found a
younger man who would work for less money.

Burks couldn't find another job and found himself floating
around various shelters, often plagued by the stigma associated
with homelessness.

``You can't get a job if you don't have an address,'' he said.
``And, some places, if they see a homeless shelter listed as your
place of residence, they'll say 'No thanks' and turn you away. If
you don't have an address, you can't get food stamps, you can't get

Nora Burks, from Georgia, was renting a trailer from a friend.
But when the friend failed to make payments, the trailer was
repossessed and she was instantly homeless.

Nora made her way to Owensboro, eventually finding refuge in the
Daniel Pitino Shelter, where she met Burks.

Local charities helped Billy Burks find a job and an apartment,
and Nora soon moved in with him. Their lives seemed to be getting
back to order when they started thinking about the people they'd
met under bridges and in homeless camps across America.

Unable to let go of the memories, they were driven to action.

``We figured people would laugh at us, and there was some of
that,'' Billy said of the walk for awareness. ``But we sure did
feel good when we went to bed at night.''

AP-CS-11-22-00 1321EST
Received  Id AP100332A3430439 on Nov 27 2000 10:08


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