Shopping for bicycle racks a few years ago, the city had to spend its money out of state because no machine shop in this old smokestack town made them.
But now, Metro Metal Works, a program of Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry, is cranking out bike racks at the Lakeside men’s homeless shelter, hiring people on the skids who need money and job training. Some are homeless. Some are just out of prison.
“This allows us to show that we have current employment,” said John Handyside, a homeless man working a pipe-bending machine in the rack shop. “And that makes it easier to find a better-paying job.”
Handyside lives in the shelter, earns minimum wage and pays child support. “This also keeps me out of trouble,” he said.
Metro Metal Works was started by Michael Sering, vice president of housing and shelter for Lutheran Metropolitan, a nonprofit charitable agency, and Bryan Mauk, director of the agency’s social-enterprise program.
With start-up grants totaling $70,000 from the city and the Dominion Foundation, they bought a welder, a drill press and a pipe-bender.
Mauk came up with a couple of designs, and by July 2011, the fledgling enterprise was in business. Working out of the shelter’s maintenance garage, it has sold bike racks to a McDonald’s restaurant, some local churches and the cities of Cleveland and Cleveland Heights.
Metro Metal is working on an order from Cleveland for 40 more racks.
“There’s an explosion of bicycles,” said drill-press operator Marc Dorsey, 59, who is in Lutheran Metro’s community re-entry program. “And with the price of gas going up, there’s going to be more demand.”
Metro Metal operates on a $100,000 annual budget, employing about eight people a year. But the operation keeps growing, and its bottom line is nearly in the black.