Local Minister Organizes Cross Country Motorcycle Trip To Raise Awareness, Staying In Homeless Shelters. Plus Virginia’s Medicaid Dollars Going To Mental Illnesses

(8-30-19) A minister who is the director of a rescue mission in Winchester, Virginia is leading a Rescue Ride across America on motorcycles to call attention to homelessness, mental illnesses, addictions and shelter life.

Pastor Brandon Thomas recently explained his plans to Dr. David Drew Pinsky and Leann Tweeden during the first fifteen minutes of their nationally syndicated radio show:  Dr. Drew Midday Live. 

During that interview, Dr. Drew lamented how America has allowed sick people to die on its streets and offered strong opinions about anosognosia and how the definition of gravely disabled needs to be expanded, explaining that homeless, psychotic individuals often are infuriated after they get help and become stable because no one intervened earlier to help them.

Thomas, whose father had a serious mental illness, said he hopes the 12 day ride will shine a spotlight on the plight of homeless Americans, especially those in shelters. He and a half dozen other riders will spend their nights sleeping in homeless shelters and will live stream and upload videos of their conversations with shelter residents who they meet during the trip. Scheduled to depart from Winchester on September 27th, the Rescue Riders will travel to Knoxville, Nashville, Little Rock, Wichita, Denver, Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

Winchester Rescue Mission Executive Director Brandan Thomas straddles his Harley-Davidson motorcycle outside the shelter. Photo by

During his radio interview, Thomas offered an unsolicited recommendation of my book, CRAZY: A Father’s Search Through America’s Mental Health Madness. A pastor since he was 19, Thomas told the Winchester Star newspaper that one of his goals was to start a church. He launched Canvas Church in 2013 in a garage with only a handful of people. It has since grown to 200-plus in attendance.

The Winchester Rescue Mission has beds for 32 men and recently opened a second location with beds for 15 women. It offers case management and meals. Some 300 individuals in the city and the area around Winchester are homeless. Thomas told Dr. Drew that it can take six months for someone who walks into his shelter with a mental health issue to get an appointment with a doctor.

The Rescue Mission, Habitat for Humanity and a local Substance Abuse Coalition worked with the Rotary Club of Winchester to obtain a funds to purchase the women’s shelter, a 118-year-old, 2,839-square-foot house. Winchester and the surrounding area have been especially hard hit by the opioid crisis.

“Our goal is to raise $50,000 over the course of the motorcycle trip,” Thomas told the newspaper. The money will be used to help fund the Winchester Rescue Mission.  The first $25,000 in donations to riders will be matched dollar-for-dollar by a couple who asked to remain anonymous. Grove’s Winchester Harley-Davidson is providing the minister with the free use of a Harley-Davidson motorcycle along with $500 in gas money. For additional information contact Vicki Culbreth, the Rescue Mission’s development director via her email here. 

The Rescue Ride is an example of the power of individuals to help change lives and improve their communities. Or as Margaret Mead put it:

 “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”  

Virginia Medicaid Dollars Being Used To Improve Mental Health Services

In 2018, Virginia finally got around to passing Medicaid expansion and Virginia Delegate Vivian E. Watts, a Democrat who represents part of my home county in Fairfax, recently listed how a portion of those funds will be used to improve mental health services.

Delegate Watts is a veteran mental health and child advocate. She warned that Virginia ranks third from the bottom in providing services for children under age 18.

I’ve served with her on various local commissions and have always been impressed by her knowledge and enthusiasm. She works in the General Assembly with state Sen. Creigh Deeds, who has spearheaded efforts to better our state’s mental health services. His son ended his own life after he and his father were turned away from a local mental health center because there were no local beds available. 

Medicaid expansion: 1.75 billion in new federal funds.

*$12 million of the $36 million it will take to provide one school counselor for every 250


*$7.8 million statewide to provide same-day mental health crisis services;

*$6.4 million to help end bed shortages in mental health hospitals created when the state required them to admit people in eminent danger to themselves or others;

*$5.2 million to expand community support for people waiting to be released from state hospitals;

*$3 million for permanent supportive community housing for addicts and those with mental illness;

*$1.2 million to pilot programs to support schools with integrated mental health services for students needing additional care.

It’s a much needed start!

About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.