News Blog

You can keep up with the latest project developments from the people on the ground making them happen via the BWB Blog. We want to hear from you and welcome your comments.
PROJECTS BLOG 10/30/2017

Exploring a Scaleable Model for Rapid Transitional Disaster Sheltering

Exploring a Scaleable Model for Rapid Transitional Disaster Sheltering: Charitable-Rate RV Rentals Plus Home-Hosting   by: Arthur Zwern, RVs Without Borders

RVs Without Borders advocates a simple post-disaster transitional housing model based on A) crowdsourcing underutilized privately-owned RVs, B) matching RVs with those who lost homes on a needs basis, and 3) connecting the matched RVs/clients to utilities at local home-host volunteers located as geographically close to each client’s former home as possible. Our goal is to prevent the terrible costs communities face after a disaster, when those who lost homes move away and depopulation tears apart schools, local services, and businesses. 

The effort was conceived the morning after the Valley Fire in 2015, as three simple ideas: 

  1. America lacks decent post-disaster options for sheltering families ‘in community’ for 3+ months while longer-term recovery housing is sorted out, so the conventional answer is often “immediate exodus” which worsens disaster impacts, 
  2. Instead of storing my RV for the Winter, someone who just lost their home should live in it so they can stay in community, and 
  3. If I feel this way maybe other RV owners will too? 

Within 4 days, the first RVs Without Borders house trailer was handed off to a fire victim in Middletown, who was promptly rousted by a Sheriff’s patrol and told to leave! While making many more RV/client matches over the next several months, we learned many lessons about what will and won’t work in the physical world and the political, including ways that local officials/communities can increase their disaster response resilience. County officials learned too. 

In response to the 2017 fires, local officials are far more prepared to proactively integrate RVs in their recovery plans. Meanwhile, RVs Without Borders has significantly honed its service model to attract more RVs by resolving legal/insurance risks and uncertainties involved in lending RVs as a charitable act. As we re-launch RVs Without Borders version 2.017, we hope we are advancing towards a scalable solution and welcome ideas or assistance no matter how unconventional. 

Our model looks like this:

1) Practicality: There Is No Option To RVs

In a tight housing market without much vacancy, the only sheltering solution that can possibly arrive fast enough to clear out relief shelters without depopulating the area is RVs – “little homes that roll”. Nothing else comes close in deployment speed, quality of living, ease of utility provisioning, user familiarity, legal practicality, nor cost. 

2) Scalability: A Fleet 9 Million Strong

With 9 million RVs in the US and most in storage at any given time, just 1% of our nation’s RV army could shelter nearly all the nation’s disaster victims each year – if only the RVs could be deployed efficiently, such as the manner AirBnB deployed unused bedrooms and then vacation homes. Katrina proved government can’t do this, but we think America can! We invite mass deployment, from loaning out unused RVs at charitable rates to permanent donations. 

3) Flexibility: Charitable Rate Rentals

To overcome legal uncertainties of lending RVs as a charitable act, we now paperwork RV loans as low-cost rentals, with mandatory vehicle & liability insurance to protect the RV owner and RV user. We invite RV owners to set their own charitable rental rate, enabling them to cover their expected wear & tear costs or give the equivalent of a gift at $1/day. 

4) Quality: First-World Coziness

If RVs are safe and comfortable enough for wealthy retirees to vacation with or live in full-time, they are safe and comfortable enough for someone who just lost everything to live in until a more permanent home can be had – especially when the only alternative is leaving their community. Today’s disaster survivors don’t get that choice and we aim to provide it. 

5) Home-Hosting: Don’t Threaten Community Fabric, Weave A Resilience Layer

Nearly any intact house on a public sewer line can host an RV and easily plug it into an electric outlet, hose bib, and plumbing clean-out to help a friend or neighbor – like a temporary guest house. No permits should be needed for X months post-disaster, since RVs connect like this routinely without permits. Home-hosting directly connects every family in an RV to a family in a house, making the RV occupants a known entity for the neighbors to support not reject. These one-to-one personal connections that become one-to-many can maintain and enrich neighborhoods one RV at a time, without any of the risks of “RV ghettos”. 

6) Advocacy: Temporary Guest Homes On Wheels Work! 

We advocate our “RV as a temporary guest house” model with local governments, hope they hear us, and invite them to waive all prohibitions to it during disaster recovery phases. We also invite and challenge officials to think of a better way! The conventional alternative of group RV encampments is daunting, facing barriers from land suitability/rights to utility infrastructure costs to public health, safety, security, and liability risks. But that charitable rate RV in my driveway housing some friends until their burned lot is cleared? So simple for all parties it is almost too rational to be legal. 

7) Innovative Gifting: This Is Our Gift; What Is Yours?  

We are volunteers seeking better ways to match owners of underutilized RV assets with those who just lost homes, and to find sensible locations for parking them that maintain community. If you can help with an RV, a location, filling an RV with supplies for those who will live in it, volunteering to help us do more of this, a better way to do it, or in any other way, please contact us!

8) A Better End When Upgrading Your RV: Deductible “90 Or Newer” Donations

We also accept permanent donations of “90 or newer” RVs in good livable condition, and can arrange 501(c)(3) charitable deduction letters. Other RV donation services just auction your old RV – we turn it into an opportunity for the donor to directly connect with a family whose lives you transform. Our needs-based model reserves permanent donation RVs for uninsured clients with strong local ties such as students in school, who need both a home and an initial financial asset to begin recovery. 

9) Community, Not Cash: Have You Noticed We Aren’t Raising Money?

Money gets messy, and if we received any the first pile would go to lawyers and accountants. Instead we are trying to create a modern “barn raising” model that enables post-disaster local community resilience through directly connecting people, without the need for us to spend much money nor raise it. Maybe it will work or maybe we’ll need money sometime. Either way, the casework is time consuming so we do need volunteers to help us attack this big problem in a way meant to be “by the community, of the community, and for the community”.  

If participating in helping people isn’t reason enough to support our effort with your RV, utility hookups, time, or expertise, then you might check the weather: with so many natural disasters of all kinds becoming the norm these days, none of us can ever know if we will be the next family that needs RVs Without Borders…thank you!  



Comments are closed.