There are countless working homeless families struggling to get by across America. In Oregon, one woman found a way to give families a chance at having a forever home. Utilizing out-of-commission school buses, Vehicles for Changes converts the roomy vehicles into functional “tiny houses.” Thanks to the work of Julie Akins, the Flood family was able to move into their new home in time for the holiday season.
An American Family
The Flood family is a typical family of five, except they had been living in their 2006 Mercury Grand Marquis for ages. The landlord was forgiving with the family when they experienced an economic downturn, but eventually, they found themselves homeless in June 2008. Age 63, David Flood had two master’s degrees and found work as a substitute teacher. His 37-year-old wife, Jennifer, had lost her income due to long withstanding health issues. The couple’s three children, Raylee, David Jr., and Noah were caught in the fray.
Jennifer Akins, a 58-year-old freelance journalist, has been documenting the stories of working homeless families for her upcoming book, One Paycheck Away. After living among homeless families and looking at the factors that could help uplift them out of poverty, she wanted to do more to help. Akins started Vehicles for Changes, connecting families in need with converted school buses for homes. David Flood recalled meeting Akins and holding a conversation when on a city bus. He reached out to Vehicles for Changes to apply for a home for his family.
Organizations like Vehicles for Changes rely on donations and volunteers to work. The housing crisis and challenges faced by working homeless families are often invisible. Families like the Floods find shelter in tents on campgrounds, live in their car, or live in encampments. School buses provide an economically and environmentally sound hosing alternative for homeless families. Many school bus companies sell their retired buses for around $3,000 or give them away for free.
Akins’ embrace of converting school buses for housing the homeless makes sense. She stated, “They want to have a place to live that is their own, that’s safe — and they want to be mobile so they can get better jobs.” Jennifer connected with engineer, Alex Daniell, an expert in building tiny homes for the homeless in Eugene, Oregon. The first “skoolie,” or school bus home was given to the Floods to inhabit. Having a stable home again helped the Floods stress less and regain a foothold.
A Safe Space
Many people don’t understand that even if homeless families have income, affording to move may prove difficult. Finding affordable housing is another issue that working families contend with to get out of homelessness. Vehicles for Changes has confirmed that the model of creating converted homes for homeless families works. The outside of the Flood’s home looks small, but inside it is roomy and comfortable. The family began planting an organic garden outside, and David commented, “It took the stress off of our lives. It allows us to breathe for a moment.”
On Facebook, stories about the work Vehicles for Changes does have received positive reactions. The story of the Flood family falling on hard times, and then finding renewed hope with a forever home has yet to go viral. Thanks to the power of social media and the Internet, more people are learning about the difficulties that their hidden homeless neighbors are facing. According to Akins, there are over 20,000 homeless children in need of a roof, bed, and a home-cooked meal. Using Vehicles for Changes, Akins hopes to make homelessness a thing of the past, one converted school bus at a time.
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