A disaster response emergency housing solution.
Our Keep'Em Home mission typically supports 'Blocky' dog owners who find themselves struggling to secure resources that will allow them to keep their dog(s). Because our dogs have taught us not to discriminate, we also extend a certain amount of help to families with 'non-blocky dogs' as resources allow.
Camp Fire Survivors
Our program was put to the test in November, 2018. Hundreds if not thousands of committed pet owners were tragically displaced by the Camp Fire during a time when housing was already scarce (news link). We considered swinging our energies towards creating new foster spots for surrendered dogs from those same displaced homes, but after so much tragedy, helping committed families stay together was more in line with our core vision.
The larger disaster response agencies were unable to address the massive need of tens of thousands of survivors. Securing safe housing was key. We strategized with survivors for landing pet friendly rentals, scoured housing ads and reached out to landlords on their behalf and brought in 200' of fencing. We wrote checks for used trailers and emergency needs, distributed groceries, winter gear, supplies, funded veterinary care, housed owned dogs and an evacuees back at our grounds and offer behavior and training support as we were able. All of it, a drop in the bucket.
Four long months after the fire, FEMA finally admitted that they were unable to meet the critical housing need of so many survivors (news link). Our search for used RVs that were affordable and problem free ended in frustration, so last March, with so many still homeless, we made the decision to try our hand at converting a small fleet of donated shuttle buses into emergency housing units for survivors with pets. This is what the times are calling for, so who are we to watch from the sidelines and just hope for the best?
The first competed Bus Home went to Skeeter Schuette, her dog Ethel and cat Lucy Lu just days after BR's 20th birthday. Skeeter's request was approved in part because she's disabled and lacked adequate support, but she's also resourceful and highly motivated to make a Bus Home work for her situation. She'd been sleeping in her pickup truck which was profoundly uncomfortable, so we fast tracked the conversion and learned a lot - quickly.
Off Grid Comforts
Converting a bus involves removing rows of seats, pulling out heavy lift equipment and grinding out hardware, researching products, smoothing and installing new floors, hunting down help and cabinetry and installing solar panels and inverters so the buses can run lights and small appliances off grid. It's been a lot of work and a serious labor of love.
In Skeeter's bus, the original handrails were left intact so she can steady herself during times when cramping affects her balance. Generous supporters donated the finishing touches: custom made curtains, a vintage chair, dishes, small kitchen appliances, a mini-fridge, a kitchen sink, fans, bedding and window screens.
What about a bathroom? The buses are designed for dry camping in grounds where porto-potties or camp bathrooms exist, however many bus owners build small, closet size bathrooms into their units that include composting toilets and even small showers.
Home Sweet Bus
Skeeter's getting settled in now and sleeping in a safe and comfortable bed for the first time in months. Her bus is currently housed in the parking lot of a church in Paradise, CA, where she'll stay until the fire debris is cleared from her property and she can return to rebuild. She could end up living in the bus for 1-2 years.
Donors: Meet some of the survivors you've lifted up through your generous support of the Keep'Em Home program. LINK HERE
Four more buses were converted and matched to dog owners. We're keeping our application open for now: REQUEST A BUS
GRATITUDE to Helpers Extraordinaire: Rob McNicholas, Casey Hansen, Jana Ashley (Western Design Flooring America), Sean Lizotte, Emma Katherine, Darrel DeBoer, Leslie Jackson, Josh Bittick, John & Leslie Bandy, Seena Clark, Beatrice Evans, John Deal, Tracey Cone - and our life saving donors.