Turning School Buses Into Tiny Homes for Homeless Families

Vehicles for Change gives the gift of a real home.

Oct 5, 2019

Everyone needs  a roof over their heads. It could be a villa, an apartment in the sky, a cabin in the woods, or a converted school bus.

For Julie Atkins, turning old school buses into tiny homes for working homeless families is a great solution. She came up with the idea when she was a freelance journalist living in Ashland Oregon when she began researching and chronicling the stories of homeless people according to People.

She spent two years pitching a tent and living alongside homeless people in Denver Colorado. What she found was, “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,” Atkins told People.

Then she came across families living in old school buses.  She met a family with seven children who had ripped out the seats and were living on mattresses on the floor of the bus. “It was in disarray,” said Akins. “There was no toilet, shower, or kitchen.”

That's when the idea for Vehicles for Change was born. Atkins thought that the buses have 240 square feet (22 square meters) of space and are retired from school districts when they are only 12 years-old so they are in good shape. You could add electricity, a kitchen, as well as a bathroom, and house a family in a "skoolie" converted bus. She launched the nonprofit in 2017.

“This is a project that I really think can have an impact,” Alex Daniell, who has spent years designing and building tiny houses for the homeless in Eugene, Oregon told People. He saw what Atkins was doing and offered to help. Now he is working on designing and building two Skoolies with the help of volunteers. The buses are donated by local school districts.

One of the families that just moved into their own home is the Floods. Due to health issues, the family fell behind on their rent and while the owner was understanding, they had to eventually move out. The family of five lived in a campground in a tent until it closed after the summer.

“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,” said Flood.

The family heard about Vehicles for Change, applied for a home and were able to move in on Thanksgiving day 2018. The bus changed their lives. They can relax and Floods have hopes for the future. The bus is currently parked in a mobile home park.

“It really is The Magic School Bus,” Akins said. “They’re in there learning all the time. David’s always learning a new thing and teaching his kids.”

The current plan is to make one Skoolie a year but if the organization can raise more funds, they can build more tiny homes. They hope that this idea can be implemented in other communities around the country. To some people, it is just a school bus, but to the families who are living in them, it is home.

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BONNIE RIVA RAS, EDITOR & WRITER
Bonnie Riva Ras has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.