Ashland Mayor Julie Akins hugs Audrey inside a school bus that has been turned into a home, courtesy of the Bus Project. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]
Audrey, along with her children Glory Grace and Leo, cut the ribbon Friday at Talent Middle School for their new home, a converted school bus. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]
In 2020, a multitude of tragedies multiplied like the folds of a crumpled sheet of paper – COVID-19, the Almeda fire, homelessness – and then social programs began to crumble under the strain .
“Our family fell through the cracks – there was a void,” said Audrey, a single mother who lost her home in the Almeda fire and found herself stuck in the folds of this crumpled page. .
For the past two years, Audrey, a victim of domestic abuse who asked that her last name not be used, lived like a real mama bear, always on the move and constantly vigilant as she brought her babies in different types of wilderness: refuges, couch-surfing and campsites.
She said shelters were filling up quickly, there was hardly any help from overworked social workers and there were too few houses for too many people at far too high a cost.
She believes that because she does not have a substance abuse problem or a mental health issue, it has been more difficult for her to get help.
“Women like me, we call it being the top of the bottom, it’s hard for us. I feel like a lot of women and children have fallen through the cracks,” she said.
On Friday, a local nonprofit called the Bus Project presented Audrey with the keys to a new home – a skoolie.
This school bus has been remodeled to function as a home. The renovations were carried out by hundreds of students from six local schools under the guidance of qualified instructors.
The Bus Project, a collaboration of the Southern Oregon Educational Service District, Rogue Workforce Partnership, Talent Maker City, Grants Pass Youth Plus Project, Southern Oregon Regional Development and The Foundation Skoolie, is working to address dual housing needs and the dwindling supply of skilled tradespeople. .
The groups leverage grants from the Oregon Community Foundation and cash or material donations from local businesses to turn school buses donated by the Ashland School District into homes for the homeless and, in doing so, provide new career paths for the next generation of students.
Students from Phoenix High School, Ashland High School, Eagle Point High School, South Medford High School, and Armadillo Technical Institute have all had the chance to work on the skoolie. Students from Talent Middle School also helped, but they mostly worked on design and painting.
Piper Tamler, an instructor at Talent Maker City, said shop classes were underfunded and often unavailable to high school students, driving down the number of skilled tradespeople.
“We need tradespeople so badly, and as a teenager, getting a little bit into it is how we go about it,” Tamler said.
She said her students came to see her nervously at first. Months of distance learning left them unsure of how to interact with her and each other. Tamler said most of them approached the skoolie project without any previous experience in carpentry, electrical, plumbing or any other skill required by the project.
“I just feel like it was really healing for them, overall, to work on something and help someone, especially with this fire that they went through,” Tamler said.
When the Bus Project introduced the skoolie to Audrey, she saw her new home for the first time, she said.
She was overwhelmed with gratitude, especially at the permanence of her new home. She said a skoolie seemed like the only way to avoid being burdened with rent in an apartment and potentially dependent on social programs. And those payments never lead to actual ownership, she said. This skoolie is his.
She struggled to explain the importance of having a door that locks, walls, and a bathroom that is always accessible to her. It’s a renewed dignity, she says.
At the shelters, she and her children shared space with people suffering from mental health and addiction crises, she said. Other homeless single mothers like her have secret campsites in the woods, she explained, where they sleep to prevent their children from sharing in the suffering of these people.
There was also couch-surfing with friends and relatives, which was always time-limited, she said, and uncomfortable.
She and her children have gone from last place to first place, she said, and with that comes guilt.
“Right now, right now, there are single mothers out there in the secret campsites in the woods. They are invisible, they don’t look homeless because they work. But they are out there,” she said.
Audrey earned the top spot through a combination of hard work, generosity from others, and luck.
Last winter, she heard that Ashland’s heated shelter might not open due to a lack of volunteers. She raised her hand and said, “You can’t say there aren’t volunteers – I volunteer.”
Ashland Mayor Julie Akins was also a volunteer at the shelter. The two women started talking, and Akins was struck by the fact that Audrey was volunteering there while she was homeless herself. Akins jotted down the woman’s information and continued to think about her.
The Skoolie Foundation was started by Akins after visiting the West Coast interviewing homeless people.
During her tour, she said, she came to understand that those displaced by the economy or the climate want a home they can take with them as they outrun the fires or follow. developments in the labor market.
With a phone call, Akins confirmed that Audrey was one of those people who considers a skoolie “a dream come true.”
Akins hooked up Audrey with the opportunity to write an essay and be chosen to receive the given bus.
“It’s a 30-year-old house. This thing is stable; she can live there as long as she wants,” Akins said.
Karla Clark, manager of the College and Careers for All program at the Southern Oregon Education Service District, said more buses would arrive.
The Ashland School District donated three more in the past year, and all are being developed by the Bus Project and its members for future recipients.
Contact Morgan Rothborne, Mail Tribune reporter, at [email protected] or 541-776-4487. Follow her on Twitter @MRothborne.