A struggling Ashland homeless family today, Nov. 21, will be gifted with a newly remodeled, 200-square-foot school bus, fashioned into a home with beds, shower, kitchen and wood stove, thanks to an effort led by city Councilor-elect Julie Akins, who pledges many more such “skoolies,” as the conversions are called.
“It’s wonderful, exciting, a godsend and we’re so proud to be part of it,” said Jennifer Flood, mom of three children, who will now have a stable home for them to attend schools and do their homework. The bus, which took $32,000 to refurbish, will be lodged at Jackson Wellsprings.
“We’re grateful and astonished,” said her husband, David Flood. “The project took on a life of its own” with contributions and volunteer builders.
Things fell apart for the Flood family last June when the couple couldn’t pay increased rent and student loans stopped, so they spent the summer camping, then living in their car in the Walmart parking lot as cold fall weather came, said David, who adds that he’s working on his master’s degree and hopes for work in teaching or counseling.
“We learned a lot being homeless,” says Jennifer. “It was hard but it brought us closer together. We went to the Y every day to play with the kids and for hygiene.”
The bus, bought from the Grants Pass School District, features bunk beds, a double bed in the rear and a kitchen outfitted with much longed-for shelves and drawers.
Refurb started in June on a lot at Van Ness and Water streets, using a lot loaned by Ashland builder Gil Livni.
Curtains were sewn by Ashland seamstress Lynn Ramey, a veteran of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s costume shop. Dr. Jerry Lehrburger, owner of Wellsprings, is donating the parking slot. Dan Wheeler of Outlier Construction, donated the plumbing and tile work, noting, “I like to see the smiles on people’s faces and we like to take care of our own employees and the community.”
Foundations gave significant grants and many individual, local donations arrived in amounts of $20 or $50, Akins said. In addition, generous volumes of pots, pans, flatware, a microwave, coffee maker and food arrived. Medford’s Grocery Outlet donated a $100 gift card so the family can make a holiday meal shopping trip.
Cody Armond was in charge of building, including doing framing, insulation, electrical, cabinets, bunks, master bed, water heater and living room couch. It’s the fifth bus he’s converted and he lives in one. He notes, “I loved doing it. It turned out beautiful and it puts a roof over a family’s heads. We need that.”
Akins, a former San Francisco TV news journalist and Tidings freelancer, says it has been a joyful and fulfilling — though hard — journey, adding, “I feel, when a family gets on this bus, that I’m doing exactly what I was meant to do. When Raylee painted those clouds on the ceiling over her bunk, I felt that was the best paycheck I’ll ever get. I feel this is what I want to do until the day I die.”
Akins is about to take delivery of two more school buses, a gift of the Ashland School District and, given the efficiencies they’ve worked out, will be able to build them at a lower cost.
“It’s unique, what we’re doing here,” she notes. “No one else is doing this, as far as I know.”
Also unique, she adds, are the full-size shower and places to hang clothes. “Everyone said those are ridiculous, but, hey, they are essential to quality of life. That’s how I live and they are no different. They want to wake up in the morning and relax with coffee and the newspaper and that’s what they’ll be doing.”
To support the project, go to vehiclesforchanges.com.
John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.