Off grid bus homes. A disaster response emergency housing solution.
April 2019 marked 20 years of working to help dogs described as Pit Bulls by digging in deep with work related to dog fighting cases, shelter support programs, training classes, adoption, education, advocacy and spay/neuter work. So to celebrate our birthday, we converted a shuttle bus into a 'Bus Home' and then donated it to a poodle owner in distress.
Say what? Yes - Read on. It'll all make perfect sense in a minute.
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.
The program was put to the test in November, 2018. Hundreds if not thousands of committed pet owners have been 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.
Read: 'After Your World Burns.' in the spring '19 issue of Bark Magazine. Written by BR's Donna Reynolds, photos of Camp Fire survivors by Kathy Kinnear.
The larger disaster response agencies have been unable to address the massive need so it's been a very challenging few months for tens of thousands of survivors. We've made several trips to the area to meet with pet owners and learn how we can best help. Securing safe housing is key. We've strategized with survivors for landing pet friendly rentals, scoured housing ads and reached out to landlords on their behalf and brought 200' of fencing in for one lucky family. We wrote checks for used trailers and emergency needs, distributed groceries, winter gear, supplies, funded veterinary care, housed owned dogs and an evacuee back at our grounds and offer behavior and training support as we're 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
We've been in discussion with several displaced dog owners who hope to receive a Bus Home too, and thanks to the elbow grease of motivated volunteers, we're on track with making that a reality for a number of them. Bus recipients are vetted to ensure that this opportunity is the best match for their needs and situation.
NOTE: We're keeping our application open for now: REQUEST A BUS
Questions? We have several more buses in the works and warmly welcome monetary donations, volunteer labor and materials including quality cabinets for installing small kitchens. Watch our social media as we publish Wish Lists that are tailored to each bus and the needs of its recipient. Contact us. Thank you!
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.