By Tom Holmes
During the two coldest days caused by the polar vortex in January, Forest Park resident John Netherly transported 70 homeless street people to shelters or warming centers.
Netherly, who holds a master's in social work from Dominican University, founded the Bedrock Movement in 2012 as a way to help homeless people who choose to live on the street. He has been using his own car for the last two years to provide what he calls a taxi cab serve for homeless people.
"Some of the street homeless want help for drug abuse, medical care or psycho tropics for their mental illness," he said. "The issue is transport."
He sees his "taxi" service as a filling a gap which government agencies are unwilling to address.
"I call police, I call an ambulance, I call the fire department," he said. "They come but refuse to transport the street homeless person. The only way they will transport is in emergency situations, ie if the person is unconscious or dead."
Netherly said that investing in prevention not only saves lives but also money. His goal is modest.
"I don't think we will ever end homelessness," he said but added, "we can prevent people from dying. This is not a third world country. This is America. We can't let people die on the street."
Netherly's one-man Bedrock Movement does advocate in Springfield for the senate and the house to pass legislation that will improve services for those on the street. But he said that, until the government gets its act together, he often single handedly provides people who are homeless what they need.
"The Bedrock Movement homeless taxi cab has unofficially been going on for two years," he said. He used the word "unofficial" because he has ordered but not yet received the signage for his car which would make his service comply with government regulations.
Netherly said that his "taxi" transports street people to group sessions and treatment for physical, drug, and mental health problems.
"Our main focus," he said, "is on the elderly, the sick and abused women all who are on the street and homeless."
The Forest Park social worker spends his nights as a paid behavioral health technician for Presence Behavioral Health and his days as a volunteer who seeks to help those who choose to live on the street.
He said that his commitment to the mission of caring for the homeless comes from his parents who used to help him in his outreach. His father died in 2012.
"The day before he passed," Netherly recalled, "he was going in and out of a coma. The last thing he said to me during one of the moments when he was lucid was 'Don't forget about the homeless people.' It was like God was speaking to me through him. He passed the next day, and I have not forgotten. That's when the Bedrock Movement got started."
Netherly uses his own car to provide his taxi service. He pays for gas—as well as an $100 storage unit—out of his own pocket. That's one reason it is so important that his lawyer be successful in obtaining nonprofit 501c3 status for his organization.
"With a 501c3," he explained, "I can accept donations and apply for grants for up to $100,000."
He has two dreams for how to use that money if it were to become available. The first is to build a garage-like structure, which he would use as an office and to store things like sleeping bags and winter coats.
And the second is to purchase a van or small bus.
"During those two cold days in January I transported 70 people to shelters in my car, three people at a time. Do the math. That's over 20 trips," he said.
Netherly used the word "frugal" to describe his lifestyle until he acquires the funding he needs to carry out his mission.
He acknowledged that some people call him "crazy" for the risks he takes as he serves the homeless. Along with the risk of being ticketed for not following regulations of operating a taxi service, Netherly also faces concerns about communicable diseases. In that regard, he relies on precautions he learned when working for the Cook County Morgue 20 years ago.