Not a school bus, a ‘home-bus:’ Being homeless in Berkeley

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Joshua Jordan/Staff

Hash Khan lives in a school bus. Transforming it from an ordinary, yellow bus into a sky-blue, mobile house, Khan’s home is charming, if not alluring, to those of us who have settled for cramped rooms at steep rental costs.

“I paid $800 for the bus and spent about $1000 rebuilding it. … That comes out to around $2000 total, which is two months’ rent,” Khan, a campus junior, said of his new home. “It still drives. I plan on taking it to places and, like, doing road trips in it.”

The circumstances leading up to Khan living in a bus, however, were not as glamorous.

Khan transferred into UC Berkeley last year, only to find that he had to spend at least $13,984 for an on-campus dorm in a triple — about $1,500 per month.

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“It’s insane to be spending more than my parents’ mortgage on a spot in a triple,” Khan said. “(I’m) pretty annoyed and frustrated.”

Yet, living in a triple is the most-accessible, cheapest option for on-campus housing. The next-best option would be to look for an apartment off campus, but according to the U.S. Census, from 2011 to 2015, the median gross rent in Berkeley per month was $1,362, almost as expensive as on-campus housing.

After his first year at UC Berkeley, Khan tried searching for another apartment, though he found it difficult with the constant rise of rent and the lack of sufficient financial aid.

“I definitely think (costs of living) should definitely be taken more into account,” Khan said. “Estimates (from the universities) — I don’t think are really accurate.”

The shortage of apartments and soaring costs of rent left Khan to find his own means of shelter, forcing him to live in the his car during the first months of the semester.

While living in his car, he scoured Craigslist for vans — gaining inspiration from the growing trend of “#vanlife” on social media.

“Once I realized I wouldn’t be finding an apartment, I was pretty fixed on getting a van so I just went on Craigslist almost every day, and then I found the bus about two months into the semester,” Khan said.

It took Khan two months before he received his financial aid.

After remaining persistent in buying the bus and dedicating a strenuous amount of work and resources into refurbishing the school bus, Khan was able to settle into his “home-bus” a little less than a month ago.

“One thing you would hope to get out of an apartment is that you’re paying more than a $1000 for, is for it not to be run-down,” Khan explained. “That’s not always the case. My last apartment building was pretty shitty and I significantly like this bus more. … I even liked my car more.”

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UC Berkeley does not seem to be effectively helping its students face the housing crisis, as the university has been notoriously slow in distributing financial aid — a critical source for paying housing costs. According to Khan, it took him two months before he received his financial aid.

“Making sure financial aid is disbursed on time would be extremely helpful,” Khan said. “I do understand because the financial aid offices are so understaffed, but at the same time, many of us have to face these harsh realities because of it.”

Further stagnating the crisis, the university offers merely 27 percent of undergraduates to live in on-campus housing. Not only that, but the least-expensive option for living on campus is roughly 15 percent more than the city of Berkeley’s median rental cost.

Yet, UC Berkeley will only grant a maximum amount in financial aid of $1,412 per month for off-campus housing, neglecting the fact that approximately 40.8 percent of the city’s rental cost is above $1,500. Not to mention the fact that nearly half of the city’s population must use 35 percent or more of their income toward their rent, and many full-time students simply do not have the time to work to combat these staggering housing prices.

Because of the lack of affordable and quality housing, perhaps more students need to resort to living in their cars or in buses. Khan, however, acknowledges that this option is not feasible for everyone.

“Even in my current situation, I’m still speaking from a privileged position. Being a tall and somewhat intimidating guy, I can get away with what I’m doing,” Khan said. “In fact, the women who park with us, generally they’ll park their cars closer to just feel safer. I can’t even imagine how much harder it might be being a smaller person or a woman. So while I have a positive spin, it’s definitely not something that is not this positive for everyone.”

“You really can’t do anything if you don’t have stable housing first.” – Begonia Herbert

Khan’s observations proves to be true. For Begonia Herbert, a campus junior transfer student, it grew more apparent that living without a home even excludes certain people.

Herbert had proven to be a bright young woman pursuing work in social welfare and psychology. Yet, according to Herbert, after growing up under unstable family circumstances, she was left homeless, exacerbating the difficulties she was already enduring.

“You really can’t do anything if you don’t have stable housing first,” Begonia said. “I couldn’t live with my grandma because she was developing Alzheimer’s, and then I just had to drop out.”

According to a 2013 study conducted at UCLA, students often experiencing homelessness correlates directly with poor academic performance. Those who face unsteady housing situations are more likely to graduate later, ultimately affecting the opportunities they will have in the future.

With the futures of countless college students affected by the housing crisis, the question remains as to how the university must act. Herbert said she would prefer to have the university focus on providing basic needs for the students already accepted into the university before obtaining more students.

“On one hand, I think the university’s intentions are good, but on the other, their implementation is not,” Herbert expressed. “You can’t give students the same quality education if you can’t get their basic needs met.”hash_joshuajordan_staff_6

In spite of the intensifying housing crisis and the scarce housing options UC Berkeley offers, Herbert and Khan both are positive the campus is doing the best that it can by responding to the cost of living in the Bay Area. In fact, Khan said, since moving in, he has embraced living in a bus, despite how unconventional it is.

“It really taught me how to live minimalist life … just my lifestyle and habits have changed for the better, so I can’t complain,” Khan said. “I definitely wouldn’t mind living in the bus indefinitely.”

Contact Katrina Fadrilan at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @katfadrilanDC.

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  • berkborn

    This guy is very resourceful. Resourcefulness will serve him well all his life.

  • SecludedCompoundTTYS

    It amazes me how Berkeley doesn’t understand this: “You can’t have your cake and eat it too.”

  • Anonymous

    This is great – now Berkeley is graduating a chronically homeless person – who wants to embrace the lifestyle.

    • Clark Sullivan

      Homelessness is a disease of capitalism, not the fault of the individual… please read the article with a little empathy…