January 23, 2010

Harnessing the Homeless

UPDATE: In the comments a representative for Cass and the Green Gym says it's not at all like this:

I want to thank you for writing this story and I just hope that I might have cleared up some of your questions or skepticism. We appreciate any and all support of Cass Community Social Services because they are dedicated to helping people in Detroit who need it the most!
See the comments for the full message.

18419-Clipart-Illustration-Of-An-Orange-Man-Exercising-On-A-Stationary-Bicycle.jpgYet another milestone on the endless road of our decline. It's one of those press releases you think has to be a hoax, but sadly turns out to be real:

Detroit Non-Profit Opens Green Gym -- DETROIT, Jan. 19 /PRNewswire/ --
The Green Gym is the nation's first workout facility created specifically for homeless men, women and children. The grand opening of the Green Gym will mark a revolutionary step by Cass to improve its carbon footprint, reduce its energy costs and improve the quality of life for Detroit's most at-risk citizens.
The Green Gym will be the first of its kind. Nowhere else in the country have such innovations been implemented for the benefit of homeless citizens. In addition to standard fitness equipment such as two weight machines, boxing bags, and a treadmill, 10 Green Revolution Technology enabled stationary bikes will generate electricity to be redirected into Cass' power grid. Over one year of four daily classes, a full class of 10 at the Green Gym can generate enough power to light 36 homes for a month, or three homes for a year!
Nothing like putting the drunk, hopeless, schizophrenic, and hard-core unemployed to work while working out, is there?

As Rob "reports" in email, the mind set might work something like this:

Biff : "We gotta lotta bums."
Judy: "Yeah, and my electric bill's through the roof."
Mickey: "Hey, gang, my uncle's got an old barn he's not using, and the Officer Wilson says there's a bunch of stolen bicycles down at the police station. And Jimmy's been studying up on generators at the swell Boys' Club Mr.Boynton opened last week. Let's put on a show!"
Ten bums, 4 hours a day. Three houses. Oh hell yes, that'll work.

I try to acquire a cynical enough cast of mind to emulate the three-corner billiard shot of sheer lunacy necessary to come up with ideas like this, but I always fail. I guess that's why I'm not sucking down a paycheck as a "community organizer."

Still, I'd love to have the video rights to filming the wretched of Detroit pumping frantically on stationary bikes like so many sweating hamsters in their wheels to light up those lucky three houses. I could sell it on the Internet right next to "Bum Fights."

The next step will be the thought that they could get more out of the homeless if they suspended a ham sandwich in front of the bars. After all, it's for "the common good."

Posted by Vanderleun at January 23, 2010 3:33 PM
Bookmark and Share



"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

I know I read in some dystopian sci-fi novel, years ago in fact, about this idea. Only the lucky cyclists were rewarded with lottery tickets.

Posted by: stephen at January 23, 2010 4:14 PM

I read the article this morning in my local paper. Yes, I am a suburban Detroit resident. I chuckled and moved on, not giving it another thought because . . . well . . . it's Detroit. What do you expect?

Posted by: Harry at January 23, 2010 5:09 PM

Covering themselves with newspapers while sleeping in the sauna is going to make a mess.

We need a new season of Jackass, wherein Johnny Knoxville sniffs those spinning bike seats.

Posted by: Velociman at January 23, 2010 5:59 PM

What baffles me- is what kind of nincompoop has so much vacant space between the ears that they actually believe that carbon is a pollutant? Step back and think about it. Is it possible that anyone can be that gullible?
Oh, yeah. I heard Nancy Pelosi shilling for some federal clean air act that would ban the stuff. I heard Obama promise to cut our carbon emissions by 83% regardless of the devastation such cuts would cause. I'm beginning to wonder if Kurt Vonnegut is really dead. I think he found a way to make his characters come to life. Only they're not funny. They're in charge.


Posted by: jwm at January 23, 2010 6:13 PM

...next stop soylent green.

Posted by: Barnabus at January 23, 2010 6:15 PM

Check that comment. It was Barbara Boxer, not Nancy P.

JW (gotta' stop posting when exhausted) M

Posted by: jwm at January 23, 2010 7:58 PM

There's also something very odd about the numbers.

An average house consumes something like 20 kilowatt-hours of electricity a day. (This assumes your typical electric bill is $100 a month and the rate is 15 cents a kilowatt-hour.) Three houses would consume 60 kilowatt-hours per day.

If we assume 10 people working their butts off on the exercise equipment for 12 hours a day, that's 120 man-hours of work per day.. (Yes, I know, it's a couple of shifts of 10 people each, but the number of man-hours works out the same.)

Assuming the usual inefficiencies inherent in electro-mechanical devices, the 60 kWh we need to power those three houses will require an input of about 75 kWh, which is provided by those 120 man-hours.

75 kWh / 120 man-hours = 75,000 watt-hours / 120 man-hours = 625 watts / man.

One small problem: The average sluggard is able to put out only about 75 watts (1/10 horsepower) power on a continuous basis. A man who is physically fit can put out maybe 120 watts (1/6 horsepower). The article's writer would have us believe that a man is nearly as strong as a horse. (625 watts works out to about 0.8 horsepower.)

Methinks someone slipped a decimal point somewhere.

On the other hand, three houses' worth of power from all those sweating homeless people sounds more impressive than power enough for 0.3 house. Or power enough for a high-end desktop computer, and then only while those squirrels, er, homeless people are pedalling away.

And the j-school grads wonder why engineers laugh at them.

Posted by: Hale Adams at January 23, 2010 9:15 PM

Hale: You forgot to factor in the methamphetamine.
It's relatively cheap, and would provide a great incentive along with increased production.


Posted by: jwm at January 24, 2010 7:14 AM

It's The Myth of Sisyphus redux.

Posted by: ken at January 24, 2010 4:53 PM

Edward G. Robinson in Soylent Green (I see Barnabus got there first).

Posted by: Ken at January 24, 2010 5:37 PM

Hale Adams is correct. Read carefully. They are only claiming enough power for the LIGHTS of these 36 homes.

Posted by: Ed at January 25, 2010 5:18 AM

Good idea - I wonder if they do this in NYC as well?

Posted by: Boxing Bags at January 25, 2010 11:41 AM

I am involved heavily with Cass Community Social Services so I can give a little background information that might lessen some of the semi-hostile comments.

The Green Gym is a very generous name for what was constructed, it is very basic with only your essential equipment including the 10 bikes. All of the money and equipment for the gym was provided via donation, no million dollar spending sprees or taxed dollars from the public.

Cass runs on a mantra of “Fighting Poverty, Creating Opportunity” it is understandable that when you see something like this it might seem like a waste, it’s natural to say why do we need that when these people could be receiving far more essential services.

Cass already provides those services, they house men, women and children that are Detroit’s most “at risk” citizens. This means that they are not just homeless because they didn’t feel like getting a job, it means they can’t get a job. The people at Cass are physically or mentally disabled, many with severe learning disorders or other medical conditions that prohibit them from having the chance to function in regular society. It’s not that riding a bike to stay healthy is more important then food or shelter, Cass offers those as well, it’s the fact that the health aspect is an often overlooked aspect for people that are already overlooked.

Furthermore Cass is the only place in Detroit that tends to men with HIV/Aids, they also have a free clinic. Many shelters sort children and adults, but Cass is one of the few places in the country that allows the mother and children to live in the same place, creating an experience that is not so harsh on the families.

The Green Gym was created as part of their Green Initiatives. Currently they are able to help out the environment, while providing vocational opportunities to men and women that would otherwise be unemployed throughout their lifetime. They turn abandoned tires (A huge problem in what used to be the “Motor City”) into mud mats, they shred documents (Most of the people working their can’t read, so your documents could never be safer!).

Cass follows their mantra by stepping out of the box and creating a lifestyle that is not cut and dry essentials, but actually allows them to lead lives they most likely would have never dreamed of.

The Green Gym was not created so mentally handicapped homeless people could power Cass, it was created because the people at Cass LOVE these types of “events.” The Green Gym will help out the health of the staff, residents and volunteers (It is not a Lifetime Fitness, it’s not open to the public), provide jobs for people that never dreamed of having one and help the environment (Even if the results aren’t extraordinary, every little bit makes a difference).

I can fully understand why this concept may be off putting for some people, why you might think it’s a stupid idea, or that it’s a waste, but if you could come to Cass and see the effect these initiatives have on people who would otherwise be hopeless, I think some of you would change your tune.

I want to thank you for writing this story and I just hope that I might have cleared up some of your questions or skepticism. We appreciate any and all support of Cass Community Social Services because they are dedicated to helping people in Detroit who need it the most!


Posted by: Spencer Hayes at January 26, 2010 8:16 AM


I know you are trying to be upbeat and accentuate the positive. But this ..

Most of the people working their can’t read, so your documents could never be safer!

Is just sad. It was not that long ago that literacy was taken for granted. Now .. not so much.

Posted by: Brian at January 26, 2010 10:40 AM

That was a joke, they lack literacy because of their mental handicap, not because of they didn't choose to put forth the effort it takes to learn how to read.

Posted by: Spencer Hayes at January 26, 2010 11:23 AM

That was a joke,


not because of they didn't choose to put forth the effort it takes to learn how to read.

Some kids at my wife's high school graduated as functional illiterates. They didn't have mental defects, nor were they lazy. The school system found itself unable to actually impart knowledge into a small core of it's students.

They learned mayhem and gangs and how to avoid the cops, but not how to get out of the cultural trap they were in.

Reading is easy and does not take any special effort on the part of the student. Kids are born wanting to know how to learn. It's the schools that are failures - us! - not the students.

Posted by: Brian Dunbar at January 26, 2010 4:28 PM

Brian you don't seem to grasping the concept of MENTALLY and/or PHYSICALLY HANDICAPPED.

These are not lazy kids, these are not stupid kids these are kids who have no food or shelter because there parents have abandoned them or are in worse shape then they are.

Cass offers them a world they would not be able to experience anywhere else.

This has nothing to do with functional illiteracy. These people aren't worried about learning to read because they are learning how to feed themselves or do other basic necessities by themselves.

Posted by: Spencer Hayes at January 29, 2010 7:45 AM

I see. So it's not the homeless that will power our industries in the future but the mentally handicapped. That's even better! :-D

Posted by: DirkH at August 22, 2011 12:37 PM