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On a Roll

Roger Montgomery
Michael Amsler

Homeless, not Helpless: Roger Montgomery at rest on his Hudson Cart.



Local man strives to make dream come true

By David Templeton

THE MORNING is wet and cool, the air's sharp chill suggesting the imminent approach of winter. In Doyle Park, in downtown Santa Rosa, a few scattered clusters of people--most of them homeless, scant belongings bundled beside them--sit at tables and benches, or sprawl stretched out on the grass, shadowed by the vast, dew-drenched cover of the trees.

From across the park, Roger Montgomery--a man with a plan--rides up to meet a guest, accompanied by his dog, Barndor, solidly perched on a flat, carpeted platform that is rigged to the front of the bicycle. According to the lean, soft-spoken Montgomery--who is fond of saying, "I'm not homeless; the world is my domain"--this whimsical dog-rig is merely one of many ideas he's thought up since 1992, when an unspecified disability forced him out onto the streets.

"I used to keep a tally of my ideas," he laughs, getting off to walk his bike. "I lost count after 5,000. A lot of them I've forgotten. I only try to hang onto the really good ones. Like the Hudson Cart."

And there it is, parked beneath a tree up ahead: the Hudson Cart, a modest but eye-catching contraption that resembles a classic toy wagon crossed with a hot-dog cart. Designed by Montgomery over four years ago and constructed from materials he begged or scrounged from dumpsters, the cart--named in honor of late Santa Rosa philanthropist Ted Hudson and his wife, Shirley--is small enough to be towed behind any bicycle. During the day, Montgomery uses the cart to pick up litter in the park and along city streets; at night, the 2-by-4-foot bed extends to a roomy 7 feet long--sleeping bag size--and becomes a kind of mini-mobile home.

"When it rains, I can rig a nylon tent over the whole thing," he says proudly. "I keep pretty dry. I sleep above the ground and away from the elements."

Montgomery is not interested merely in having his own place to sleep, however. His plan is to make the Hudson Cart available to street dwellers throughout the county--and across America.

"This unit is the prototype," he nods. "When we start manufacturing, I'll make a few changes in the design. They will be made out 100 percent recycled materials. You can sleep in it--your own mobile home--use it for laundering, hauling, making deliveries, gathering firewood, picking up trash, probably a lot of things I haven't even thought of yet. It will enable each person out here to fend for themselves. That's the big plan."

And a big plan it is. According to the meticulous, poetic "mission statement" Montgomery has written to describe his scheme, the goal is nothing less than "to get off the street and bring 250,000 homeless people with me."

With the help of a dozen or so local businesspeople and educators, Montgomery has established Barndor Recycling (named after his acrobatic canine companion) with hopes of finding a dedicated work space where he and others can construct and distribute the carts--along with used 10-speed bicycles--to those in need. His plan calls for selling the carts at cost for $140 each or providing them free in exchange for 20 hours of service picking up trash.

"I don't want to use the carts to make money for myself," he is quick to say, while giving Barndor a good, long scratch on the head. "That's what I invented the Recycling Trolley for." Another of his inventions, the trolley sits beside the cart. It's a clever, lightweight device on wheels that carries three plastic curbside recycling bins, allowing you to convey all bins to the curb in one trip. He'll sell the trolleys, also made of recycled materials, for $25 each, five bucks of which will go directly toward providing a free Hudson Cart to someone in need.

Montgomery concedes that the entire plan is an elaborate one, and further insists that the carts are only Phase One. Another phase includes mobilizing Hudson Cart owners as a countywide litter removal force, using the wagons to transport trash. He envisions set-aside areas--like campgrounds--for cart owners to park. Once the work space is established, he'd like to provide studio/stalls for other homeless inventor-artist-tinkerers to work in.

When the system is in place in Sonoma County, he says, he'll turn it over to others and start over in another county, spreading across the country until "Hudson Carts are as normal as bikes and cars."

AS FAR-REACHING and seemingly outlandish as Montgomery's scheme appears, he's won the respect and support of several influential local business folk, including Mike Petrucelli, owner of Vacuums Plus in Santa Rosa.

"There is an idea out there that homeless people aren't willing to take an active part in helping themselves or their community," Petrucelli observes. "Roger is the exception to that belief. He's so full of optimism and excitement, you can't help but want him to succeed. He's resourceful, too. He knows that to make this work he needs a phone, so he found someone to agree to take messages for him. That's pretty smart."

Petrucelli has agreed to act as fundraiser for Montgomery, and has himself raised several hundred dollars already. Another supporter is local writer Karen Eberhardt, who has compiled a book entitled An Attitude of Grace: Empathy in Action, detailing creative ways in which people show kindness to others. So taken was she by Montgomery that she included him in the book, and has been actively promoting his plan around the county.

"Roger sums up what I mean by 'an attitude of grace,'" she says. "And he's one of the most creative people I've ever met."

She's not alone in that view.

"I think it's a great idea," says Nick Baxter, director of the Burbank Development Project, a non-profit low-income housing organization seeking to provide permanent shelter for the homeless. "I received a very professional proposal from Roger, describing the plan. It's positive. It's industrious. If we didn't have dreamers, nothing would ever happen. The Golden Gate Bridge would never have been built.

"We need people like Roger to dream these kind of dreams. Who knows, maybe with the proper community support, it could come to pass."

Tula Jaffe of the Sonoma County Task Force of the Homeless agrees: "Anything reasonable that people do to help themselves is a good idea. The carts are certainly not a complete solution. There's still the fact that homeless people need a living-wage job and affordable housing. But in the interim, it's a practical way to give them a place to be."

"It's a start," Montgomery shrugs, sliding the cart's sleeping extension back inside and preparing to roll out for the day. "People die out here, you know. I've lost a lot of friends in the last year. Someone's got to do something. Everything good started out with an idea. This one is mine. All I need now is people willing to help out, to find out if it can really work.

"I'm pretty sure it can."


For further information on the Hudson Cart, the Recycling Trolley, or Barndor Recycling, leave a message for Roger Montgomery at 542-5208 or call Mike Petrucelli at 527-9831.

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From the Nov. 6-12, 1997 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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