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BYOV

Empowering Nomads One Solar System at a Time: HOWA’s Winter 2024 BYOV

On Thursday, February 1, a group of HOWA volunteers and BYOV solar system recipients gathered at the historic Gold Rock Ranch RV Park in Winterhaven, CA, for HOWA’s Winter 2024 BYOV (Bring Your Own Vehicle) event.

Each BYOV is a perfect example of the heart of HOWA’s mission to change lives, build a supportive community, and prevent homelessness, and this winter was no exception. Thanks to the generous support of Lectric eBikes, seventeen deserving nomads received the keys to a more sustainable and empowered life on the road.

The gift of power: more than just energy

Each of the twelve recipients received a 200W solar system, a comprehensive package including solar panels, a lithium battery, solar charge controller, wiring, fuses, and all the other essentials for a safe, standalone power system. 

 

But this event provided more than electric power. Nearly every recipient in attendance talked about freedom and self-sufficiency as the most life-changing gift they were receiving. 

Many have been forced to buy ice every few days to keep their food or medications cold. Others have had to deal with dead phones, CPAP machines, and other devices meant to keep them safe and connected to friends and family while on the road. 

These solar systems will empower recipients to meet the basic needs that so many take for granted: the ability to safely store food, charge devices, take medication, and seek the community support we all need.

Stories from the road: the impact of solar

This year’s recipients ranged in age from mid-twenties to mid-seventies, with home states spanning from coast to coast. Some are making the best life they can imagine for themselves on a limited budget. Others have chosen nomadic life as an alternative to high-crime neighborhoods back home. 

 

Until now, Havoc has relied on a small solar panel to keep her phone charged, leaving her out of touch on cloudy days. She’s looking forward to spending more time in nature now that she won’t have to stay so close to town for basic services and to buy ice.

The ability to get further into nature is especially important to Aimee, an introvert who has found that five years on the road without a fridge has taken its toll. “This power system means that I won’t have to worry. Emotionally, physically … It’s going to improve everything,” she said through tears.

For Andi, who has food-related health issues, the inability to properly refrigerate her food had medical implications. Michele and Liz also talked about how hard it is to cook and eat healthy food when you can’t safely store it—a worry they’re thrilled to leave behind them.

    

Other nomads mentioned other quality-of-life changes they’re grateful for, too. “This means everything to me,” said Belinda, who will be able to power a 12-volt fridge and run a fan in the summer to keep herself and her dogs cool.

Learning and connection

The winter BYOV event kicked off with informative sessions led by knowledgeable volunteers, educating recipients about the safety, capabilities, and maintenance of their new solar power systems. Afterward, volunteers and recipients gathered under HOWA’s canopies to stay dry in the rain and share a pizza lunch, fostering a sense of community and gratitude among grantees, volunteers, and staff.

The nomadic lifestyle can be isolating at times. At BYOV and other HOWA events like Caravans, nomads can find a sense of belonging and mutual support. This BYOV event was a vivid demonstration of what is possible when people come together to support each other.

Why BYOV makes a difference

  • Empowerment: From charging cell phones to powering CPAP machines, solar-powered electrical systems offer nomads a much-needed lifeline.
  • Freedom: Without dependency on coolers, our friends can store their food safely and stay at dry camping spots longer, reducing their spending on fuel and ice.
  • Community: Every BYOV creates a sense of belonging and support among nomads, forming a vibrant community united by shared experiences and helping hands.

How you can help

HOWA provides nomads with:

  • Basic goods and supplies to help make vehicles into functional, safe, and secure dwellings
  • Transition assistance into a financially and environmentally sustainable mobile lifestyle
  • Events and gatherings to connect with the nomadic community
  • Opportunities to give back and improve the lives of other nomads, area communities, and our public lands

Our journey of empowering nomads is far from over, and the support of the community remains as vital as ever

To those moved by the stories of transformation and community at the BYOV event, we invite you to join us. Whether through donations, volunteering, or simply sharing our mission, your support makes a difference. Together, we can continue to change lives and protect the confidence, self-sufficiency, and dignity of those we serve.

Click here to donate

Click here for volunteer opportunities

Post written by Sarah Kuiken

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Fall 2023 BYOV

Recipients Jimmy, Michell, Julie, Suzanne, Christine, and Shannon 

Due to the constraints of HOWA’s  liability insurance, the Bring Your Own Vehicle events were on hold for most of 2023. The good news is we now have insurance that covers the events! However, the insurance does not cover the skilled volunteers who had been installing components in recipient’s vehicles so the recipients at the Fall 2023 BYOV received plug and play portable solar power systems which included 200W of solar panels and a Bluetti EB70S power box.

 

As each of the recipients unboxed the components, volunteers David Wall and Rachele Adair explained how everything worked.

 

Having a reliable source of power will be life changing for the recipients!

Suzanne who works from home will not have to worry about how to charge her hotspot and her computer.

Having power to run a refrigerator and computer will give Julie more options.

Michelle’s insulin will stay at a safe temperature now that she has the power to run her refrigerator.

Jimmy can charge his electronic devices without running down his car battery.

Shannon is looking forward to having power for small appliances to make her life easier.

And Christine will be able to keep all of her electronic equipment charged.

Thank you to the recipients, staff, volunteers, and Lectric eBike who made this a successful event!

The generous donation from Lectric eBike has allowed HOWA to purchase additional solar systems. The next BYOV will be held on February 1, 2024. Seventeen nomads will be granted 200 watt solar systems which will include two 100W solar panels for roof mounting, 100Ah lithium battery, charge controller, inverter, 12v fuse block, and all wiring, fuses and hardware. Apply by December 31, 2023 HERE.

Thank you donors! To support HOWA’s programs please click HERE.

 

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October 2022 BYOV!

The generosity of the volunteers and donors made it possible for HOWA to expand the October BYOV  and provide needed improvements to the homes on wheels of 18 recipients! As these smiling faces show, when we work together we can change lives. Thank you to the volunteers, staff, donors, and recipients for making the second BYOV a huge success!

Each recipient had their individual needs met as they worked together with their team of builders. Over the four weeks of October seven shelving units, five beds, three plywood floors topped with vinyl flooring, seven ceiling vents with fans, and twelve solar systems were installed. One van received insulation and covering on the walls and ceiling, and five vehicles were fitted with Reflectix coverings on the windows. The build teams were busy!

Meet some of the recipients!

Michelle has multiple chemical sensitivities so she can not have any wood with chemicals from glue or treatments in her van. Her build team was able to mount her solar components on a metal panel eliminating the need for wood.

       

Tina’s and Don’s StarCraft popup trailer is a comfortable home that’s light enough to be towed by their truck but it needed a source of power. Their build team mounted solar components in a storage compartment and now Tina and Don are ready to go boondocking!

Norm is an inventive guy so his new storage units were designed to serve several purposes. The unit at the foot of his bed has a drop-down door that becomes a work surface.

Sheryl’s van was a basic shell which her build team outfitted very nicely with a bed, ceiling vent with a fan, solar system, and Reflectix window coverings.

Jenny’s build team worked with her to create the perfect customized layout. Her van now has solar power, a ceiling vent with a fan, and shelving units.

Woody’s empty cargo trailer was ready for upgrades. A vinyl floor, a bed, and shelving were installed by his team.

Even as hard as everyone was working they still had time for some fun – campfires in the evening, an all nomad pot luck dinner at the Quartzsite town park, and pizza lunches every Friday to celebrate another week of work coming to an end.

 

Two people, one in the second week of the builds and another in the forth week, contracted coronavirus but the HOWA medical team and staff jumped into action with measures such as isolating people who may have been exposed, requiring masks, and conducting tests. Nobody else became sick and the builds proceeded on schedule.

Your donations along with the dedication of the BYOV volunteers have changed the lives of these 18 nomads. Thank you!

The next Bring Your Own Vehicle event will be in the spring of 2023. Applications will be available in February 2023 – HERE. 

If you wish to volunteer click – HERE.

 

 

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The Benefits of Volunteering

(Lonnie installing insulation and a ceiling in Elizabeth’s van)

Volunteering for HOWA helps nomads in need in many ways but it’s also very rewarding for the volunteers. Studies show that volunteering creates a feeling of well being and accomplishment. Solving problems and interacting with other people can lower stress and stimulate brain activity. Volunteers report feeling healthier and happier when they are involved in helping others. An added benefit for BYOV  and RTR volunteers is the community that is created when we come together in the desert to share the work and fun. Lifelong friendships are made at every gathering.

If you would like to volunteer for a BYOV or RTR event please click HERE. The information will be updated for each new event so check the linked page in the weeks leading up to an event. All skill levels are needed and you can volunteer for a day or several weeks, whatever fits into your schedule.

BYOV April 2022 volunteers share their thoughts:  

Mike: I love helping people. It gives me joy as I travel on the road to see others having joy as they start on the road.
Sarah Meg: I think one of the things that is wonderful about HOWA is that those of us who don’t have enough can get what we need and those of us who have excess can give back.
Rob: Volunteering is the most fun thing to do. It’s not like work at all. It’s fantastic. I wish I had know this earlier in life.
Kika: ...with our love and time we can accomplish anything that we want to.
Cathy: I wanted to give back. What bigger difference can you make than building someone’s bed or giving them power. It’s huge.
Deb: Being part of an experience where you are improving someone’s literal home is magical.
Jeannene: We wanted to come to help because that way they have some hope and I think HOWA gives people a lot of hope.
Bob: I‘m having the time of my life. And when you see the people that you are helping, how happy they are, you go home every night feeling great.
Chelsea: I’m finally at a point in my life that I can come and support some people out here just trying to live this great lifestyle. HOWA and CVRL were really helpful to me.
David: As soon as the BYOV came up I hit the volunteer list because I got help similar to that in times past and I just wanted to pass it on.
Kristy: What drew me to volunteer for HOWA – the desire to give back… because they loaned me a tent…and they really saved me when I needed help so I figure if I can come and contribute in some small way I most certainly will!
Stephen: It’s very humbling to be part of this. I’m hoping other people will be encouraged to volunteer for this event in the future.

These are just a few of the many volunteers who were at the April 2022 BYOV. We are grateful for all of the wonderful volunteers who made the BYOV so successful and also the volunteers who give their time and labor so that we can continue the RTRs and other programs that benefit our fellow nomads. Thank you!

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A Successful First BYOV! Part 2

BYOV (Bring Your Own Vehicle) is HOWA’s newest program, designed to help nomads who do not have the money or expertise to build out their current vehicle. April was a busy month for HOWA volunteers and recipients as everyone pitched in to create comfortable and convenient homes on wheels for the recipients. Some needed simple additions such as portable power stations and suitcase solar panels while others involved installing insulation, wall coverings, plywood floors topped with vinyl sheeting, bed frames, shelving, ceiling fans, and solar systems. Recipients are consulted every step of the way so that the improvements are what they really want and need. If they have the desire and skills they work alongside the volunteers. Read the stories of some of the recipients in Part 1.

More recipients for you to meet!

Jeffery

Jeffery grew up camping so driving his Ford Explorer deep into the Oregon national forests feels like coming home. While he enjoys the quiet of the forest he also spends time helping on his family’s farm during the spring, trimming trees for a friend’s business, and busking with his guitar while visiting towns. Jeffery’s needs are simple but the floor of his Explorer was very uneven and uncomfortable. Several pieces of plywood leveled it out and the addition a hinged section allows access to storage. Jeffery also received a 100W portable solar system to charge his phone, busking amp, and rock tumbler.


Aimee

After three years on the road, Aimee downsized from an extended van to a SUV to get better gas mileage. Aimee hadn’t the time or money to build out the SUV for comfortable living but what she really needed was a way to charge devices and power small appliances so she was thrilled with the 100W portable solar system that she received from HOWA. More improvement came when time slots opened up due to a recipient dropping out. Aimee and the volunteers got to work and cut plywood to cover the SUV floor. After gluing vinyl sheeting onto the plywood they built a bed platform with storage underneath, making a much more organized and functional home for Aimee.


Cathy

Cathy lost the house that she was buying with a friend when they pulled out of the agreement. She had been watching Bob Wells’ videos for several years and knew that moving into her car was a good option to avoid becoming homeless. After six months of car living, Cathy had saved enough to buy a Ram ProMaster, but not enough additional money to build it out. When she arrived at the BYOV build site she already had a bed platform and plenty of storage containers but desperately need solar and a roof vent with a fan to be more comfortable in the summer heat.


Curtis

Curtis had everything that he needed to live off grid in his RV but the generator necessary to power lights and appliances was costing him too much in fuel. He applied for a 200W solar system which now provides free power and he can put the money spent on fuel to better use.

Jimmy

After suffering a series of seizures, Jimmy lost his home. Living with relatives or in a parking lot as part of Sacramento’s Safe Parking program only added to his stress. He began watching Bob Wells videos and he decided that living on BLM land would be a better fit. Since making that decision Jimmy’s health has improved. He received a 100W portable solar system so that he can charge his phone and small appliances without running his truck.

Your donations along with the dedication of the BYOV volunteers has changed the lives of these nomads!

Thank you all who donated, thank you to the volunteers, and thank you to the recipients for allowing HOWA to help! The success of this BYOV means more lives will be changed for the better in the future!

To watch videos of the builds and more click HERE.

If you are a nomad in need click HERE. Applications for the fall 2020 BYOV will be posted in August.

If you wish to volunteer click HERE.

Read more

A Successful First BYOV! Part 1

BYOV (Bring Your Own Vehicle) is HOWA’s newest program, designed to help nomads who do not have the money or expertise to build out their current vehicle. April was a busy month for HOWA volunteers and recipients as everyone pitched in to create comfortable and convenient homes on wheels for the recipients. Some needed simple additions such as portable power stations and suitcase solar panels while others involved installing insulation, wall coverings, plywood floors topped with vinyl sheeting, bed frames, shelving, ceiling fans, and solar systems. Recipients are consulted every step of the way so that the improvements are what they really want and need. If they have the desire and skills they work alongside the volunteers.

Meet some of the recipients!

Cheryl

Cheryl has been a full time nomad for six years, spending most of her time stealth camping in California. Her first home on wheels was a 2015 Ford Transit that she paid to be built out to suit her. Unfortunately the Ford was a lemon and despite years of countless repairs it still wasn’t running properly. A lawyer familiar with vehicle lemon laws got her a settlement so that she could buy new van but there wasn’t money left over to hire someone to make it into a home. Cheryl bought materials piece by piece, piling them in the back of her van as a foundation for her bed while she contemplated the next step. The Bring Your Own Vehicle program was just what she needed! Cheryl’s van received insulation, wall coverings, a bed frame, shelves, a ceiling fan, and a solar system.


Ryan

Las Vegas is hot in the summer but Ryan wanted to be near his teenage son even though his van didn’t have insulation or a fan. An experienced camper, he enjoyed getting away to  boondock in slightly higher and cooler elevations which also gave him the opportunity to meet fellow travelers. Such an encounter led to a discussion of the BYOV program and Ryan decided to fill out an application. He needed solar power to charge his phone plus insulation and a ceiling fan to combat the desert heat. Working along with the volunteers was a rewarding learning experience and gave Ryan the confidence in his abilities to add more improvements to his van as he gets the time and money. 


Elizabeth

Elizabeth’s first Home on Wheels, which she shared with Sadie, was a 1997 Toyota 4Runner. When the engine failed she started looking for a small van and was excited to find a 1996 Astro van. The Astro was in good condition but it needed upgrades that Elizabeth couldn’t afford. She checked off items on the BYOV application form and was approved for all of them! Elizabeth’s van got a 200W solar power system, ceiling fan, ceiling insulation, and a vinyl-covered plywood floor. She’s planning on brightening up the interior by covering the wall insulation with colorful cloth.


To watch videos of the builds and more click HERE.

If you are a nomad in need click HERE. Applications for the fall 2020 BYOV will be posted in August.

If you wish to volunteer click HERE.

Read more