NEWPORT, RI (WPRI) – Rick Hart pedals his cab through Newport, motivated by occasional cheers for the flag that waves from the back of the man-powered vehicle.
The colors run deep in the Middletown resident who calls himself the Road Warrior. He’s about to prove it with what he calls Project Homeless Veteran, a 3,800 mile bicycle journey across the country to raise money and awareness for an issue that is close to his heart.
“To see these veterans on the street asking for change. It just breaks my heart,” Hart tells us. “This is the land of free right here. These guys should be first class. None of these veterans should be homeless. None of them.”
One recent survey pegged the nation’s homeless veteran population at about 50,000. Hart wants all of us to know that number, and care enough to listen to the reasons why veterans end up on the streets.
“I have a lot of friends and family who served and a lot of their stories are inspiring and heartbreaking as well,” Hart says. “And I can’t imagine any one of my friends or family members being homeless who served our country.”
Hart’s been training for months and while pedaling up and down the nation’s terrain for 10 weeks sounds difficult, he’s also stepping into the shoes of the veterans he’s trying to help.
“There will be no hotel stops. It will all be sleeping in tents,” he says. “How can I do this without experiencing what they experience?”
Along the way he plans on stopping at VA facilities and homeless shelters to talk with homeless veterans, hoping to help anyone who will listen to understand how someone can go from risking their lives on a battlefield, to risking their lives on the streets they fought to protect.
“I’ve met a few veterans,” he says. “Everyone has a story. Everyone has a struggle. And it’s important for us to know about it. There stories about what they’ve been through. Seeing friends die.”
He hopes to raise $60,000 through on-line donations and with fundraisers, including one scheduled for September 17 at the 5th Element in Newport. He will hit the road a short time later, heading south toward Florida and then west to San Diego where he hopes to arrive 10 weeks later.