Unfortunately, it is all too common for some people to walk past the homeless and disregard the person lying on the street, or ignore the sign being held at the intersection with a plea for help. That’s not the case for Melinda Shaw of Florence.  

Recognizing the serious issue of homelessness in her city, Shaw started a nonprofit group called Hope on Wheels. Its mission is to provide the local unhoused population with a modular live-in unit, giving them privacy, security, and safety from the elements. Producer Dave Fraser brings us the story. 


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Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: Unfortunately, it’s all too common for some to walk past the homeless and disregard the person lying on the street or ignore the sign being held at the intersection with a plea for help.

That’s not the case for Melinda Shaw of Florence, recognizing the serious issue of homelessness in her city, she started a nonprofit group called Hope on Wheels. Its mission is to provide the local unhoused population with a modular live-ing unit, giving them privacy, security, and safety from the elements. And producer Dave Fraser brings us the story.

Kelly Kane, Northampton: It’s a feeling of desperation, really. I had my stuff on my back and no place to put it.

Dave Fraser: As of January 2020, Massachusetts had an estimated 17,975 people experiencing homelessness on any given day.

Kelly Kane: I was in my life where I was between jobs and I had a big debt to pay to my landlord and I just didn’t have anywhere to go and I didn’t have any resources. And so, that brought me to the streets.

Dave Fraser: Today, Kelly is no longer part of what sometimes is referred to as America’s hidden population. But for people experiencing homelessness, finding a safe, sheltered place to stay is a constant challenge.

Enter Northampton resident Melinda Shaw, who started a project called Hope on Wheels, building mobile humanity pods that can be towed behind a bicycle, giving someone who is homeless a secure place to sleep, eat, and store their possessions.

Melinda Shaw, Hope on Wheels: I believe that it helps accomplish several things. One is independence, two transportability, and three, a semblance of a home.

Dave Fraser: The inspiration for the pods came from her work with the First Churches of Northampton, where she helped run a cot shelter as well as distribute resources to the homeless.

Melinda Shaw: I have seen people sleeping on the front steps of the church in the winter. So, I would say it is greatly improved from that. And it certainly is more durable than a tent. It won’t collapse in the snow, but it’s it’s definitely weather proof.

Dave Fraser: Shaw’s hope is to have 20 pods built by the end of the year. She is looking for volunteer teams to step up and commit to building a pod. Teams must be able to provide a used bike and a 500 dollar registration fee to cover the cost of materials.

Melinda Shaw: I have seven teams registered right now, and four of them are actively building right now.

Reflective tape, the ability to lock with a padlock here, the inside of the cup holders here. This will be a four-inch memory foam mattress. Cargo nets, cupboards.

Dave Fraser: Shaw is trying to work with the city to establish places where these pods can be parked overnight. She knows these pods will not solve the problem of homelessness in her city, but what they can provide is some personal dignity and an opportunity for someone who needs it to have their own space.

Melinda Shaw: It’s filling a gap. And, you know, when I when I interact with people downtown, I often get the “well, what about this?” and “what about that?” And, you know, I can’t fix everything. You know, I’m not God. And I’m doing something. And so, I just say “I’m doing something. What are you doing?”