A journalist-turned activist has found an innovative way to help homeless families, using what many might consider junk — old school buses.
Julie Akins began her journey to help the homeless in 2016, when she discovered families using old buses as homes.
One family had seven children tucked away in the stripped-down vehicle, which was dirty and hardly livable, according to Akins.
“It was in disarray,” she told People. “There was no toilet, shower or kitchen.”
Still, what she saw stayed with Akins and made her wonder if it might be an ingenious solution to a devastating problem.
School buses are retired for safety purposes after 12 years, according to Akins’ nonprofit website, Vehicles for Change. However, the buses usually have “20 more good years on them.”
Akins saw a way for working families to have a warm, dry place to find shelter, as well as a mode of transportation to get to work.
“They want to have a place to live that is their own, that’s safe,” she said. “And they want to be mobile, so they can get better jobs.”
Akins set out to create a comfortable living space, converting a used school bus into a functional home complete with a kitchen, bathroom and sleeping space.
About nine months after she started the project, Akins connected with a family in need.
David Flood, 63, and his wife and three children had fallen on hard times. The substitute teacher had lost his home in June 2018 and had been living in a campground.
“What people don’t understand, is that even if someone has a little bit of income, they can end up on the street — even families,” Flood, who was still working as a teacher at the time, said.
Having the bus has made all the difference for his family, he told People.
“It made the little money we had stronger,” he says. “It took the stress off of our lives. It allows us to breathe for a moment.”
“As a family, we used to always sing, ‘We all live in a Yellow Submarine.’ And that came true.”
Alex Daniell, a former designer of tiny houses for the homeless, noticed Akins’ work and was so impressed he decided to join her.
“The end product results from keeping a family from breaking apart,” he said.
“My experience with the homeless is: if the families don’t get split apart, and the kids stay in school, they don’t end up on the street. Once somebody’s been on the street for a while, it’s hard to find their way back in.”
The homes, or “skoolies,” are 240 square feet and incredibly safe, thanks to standard regulations. According to Vehicles for Change, the solution is both fast and economical, as working with the existing frame avoids wasting time and labor building a brand new structure.
Akins currently has the resources to build one home per year and she hopes to expand the project in the future.
“If I could raise more money and awareness, there’s no reason why we can’t make a lot more,” she said. “This is urgent. Kids cannot wait to grow up healthy–we must offer hope now while there’s still time to nurture our future.”
Akins said her eventual goal is to renovate five buses per year and help as many families as she can to get back on their feet.
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