by Christine Wolkin
When most of us see the homeless standing by the side of the road, coin cup and cardboard sign in hand, we may rummage through our car for some change we can spare. Some of us, out of fear for our own safety, may even roll up our windows or lock the doors. But not Doylestown native Melinda Bowyer; she asks if they need a ride.
“I was in Philadelphia doing Uber rides, and the homeless would come up to my car with signs either asking for money or food, and I was giving out my Uber tips,” said Bowyer. “And that was okay for a while until I started to run out of money. I figured there had to be another way to help.”
In-between her “pings” on her Uber app signaling a customer, Bowyer drives back and forth between Philadelphia and Bucks County, looking for homeless in need of a ride, whether it’s to a shelter or simply to the local Wal-Mart. “You wouldn’t believe how many homeless people there are in Bucks County,” said Bowyer. “Many of them turn down my help. They are used to being outside and are afraid to get help or any type of shelter.”
Those that do accept her help, however, are grateful and are able to guide her to the local shelters or their desired destination. This time of year, a free ride to a shelter could literally mean life or death for those living on the streets. A Code Blue is issued when the National Weather Bureau predicts a wind chill temperature of 20 degrees Fahrenheit or below or precipitation with temperatures below 32 degrees Fahrenheit.
The 41-year-old single mother of two has only been working for Uber for 10 months, but already she has helped more people than she says she could possibly count, many of whom she has since formed friendships with. Bowyer recounts meeting a homeless man named Eugene, with whom she now keeps in close contact.
“Back last year when I found him outside Wal-Mart every night,” she said, “I decided I would buy him a nice hot cup of Wawa coffee every night at 3 a.m. I did this for months, and it didn’t bother me that he never spoke to me. Soon he began to know I was someone that he could trust.”
Soon, he began speaking to her. and she was able to take him to get a haircut and get him into a nursing home. Now, she says, she visits him frequently and they are “friends for life … Eugene has been doing so well, and I was so ecstatic to see he had the book I gave him for Christmas on display! He is so sweet. The nursing home takes good care of him. Eugene will always have me to lean on.”
Bowyer has already logged in more than 1,000 rides and estimates she puts about 3,000 miles on her Nissan Pathfinder every couple of weeks. Uber recently recognized Bowyer’s generous spirit, along with her outstanding driver stats by donating $500 to a Philadelphia homeless shelter and $500 to the Quakertown Community Outreach Center. Both donations will be made in Bowyer’s name.
Bowyer says this all contributes to her booming business. “I’m known as the ‘Uber Queen’ all over Bucks County. I have generated a lot more business; that’s for sure. A lot of people are wanting to book me.”
Her customers are quick to pick up on her loveable and caring attitude towards people. “I make eye contact with each and every person, and I genuinely have a care and concern for them. I treat them as human beings. They deserve respect and I give them that,” said Bowyer.
City officials are asking the public to call the Homeless Outreach hotline at 215-232-1984 immediately if they see a person who appears to be homeless during a Code Blue.
Ed. Note: The local CBS-TV affiliate at Channel 10 ran a story about Bowyer on Jan. 2 with reporter Brandon Hudson.