Looking for some wisdom on what I think is a pretty deep question for our
shop. Quick background: Broke Spoke is a non-profit community bike shop,
with a mission to give everyone better access to better bikes, and enable
everyone to do their own maintenance. A big part of our community has been
a social services campus nearby which includes long-term residency, an
overnight shelter, a free cafeteria, and a residential substance abuse
rehab program. People from that center use the shop frequently, and are
probably the most common group to earn bikes from the shop.
Right now, once you regularly commit to a certain number of hours
consistently for 4 months, we provide you a key to the shop, so you can
come in on your own time to work on your own stuff and free up open shop
hours so you can volunteer. This has always been by invitation rather than
an automatic 'upgrade'. We have a small group of regular volunteers from
the center some of whom would otherwise qualify for this type of access,
but have never been invited.
We're making an effort this winter to reorganize our shop volunteerism to
be more inclusive, and the discussion has led to addressing this. Without
speaking for others from the shop, I'll share my own thoughts: on one hand,
I hate the notion that someone's general economic status could disqualify
them from becoming a more involved member of our community. The other side
of that is that severe economic stress or a substance abuse problem can
have a serious influence on someone's behavior, and it isn't necessarily an
individual character judgement to be more cautious about access to our
entire shop (~150 bikes, 8 stands, power tools, etc - our whole
operation). But that lands you back in a pretty categorically classist
conclusion that poor(er) people are inherently less trustworthy in the
shop. I also don't like where that logic leads: where do you draw the line?
My gut tells me that the potential benefit in granting someone that trust
is worth the risk, but I appreciate the other, more cautious perspective as
well. Any thoughts or experiences would be appreciated!
Broke Spoke, Lexington KY