For John Hope, the word “impossible” has more than one meaning. He speaks about the definition we’re all familiar with: “Homelessness, displacement, food insecurity—the seemingly impossible situations people find themselves in,” he says. But he also uses the word to describe something that defies the odds or changes your perspective: “My story is impossible,” he says, and then goes on to explain how it happened anyway.
“I’m a poor nobody who woke up in a hospital with a brain injury because of a stroke. I had to learn to walk again, and learn to talk again,” Hope says. When he was released from the hospital after his stroke, he had nothing. He loves boats and the water, so walked into a boat shop and asked if he could sweep their floors. Given the job, he went on to learn how to work on boats.
“I met different contractors, and people started sharing my story,” he says, “One family brought me food, another taught me to read and write.” He found a family to take him in as he recovered from his medical emergency that has played havoc with his memory, and give him a place to start down a new path.
So, what does a person do after such an incredible turn of events? In the case of Hope, he devotes himself to helping others in crisis. “I wanted to replicate and multiply for others the good that was done for me,” he says. He got to work on his new mission, the Impossible Roads Foundation.
The Foundation has united a variety of community members in their Tiny Homes project. Matson, a shipping company, brought shipping containers to a workspace donated by the Landings at Colony Wharf. The Bellingham firm RMC Architects drew up plans to convert the containers into small living spaces, and Parberry Environment Solutions—home of the Scrap-It and Stow-It programs—brought in a labor force to do the work. Bellingham industrial contractors Hunnicutt’s, Inc. generously donated the insulation needed, and solar panels were donated by none other than the world-famous Tesla. Bellingham’s DeWaard & Bode partnered with the foundation to supply appliances and help the organization spread their message.
So far, the Foundation has assembled 10 of these fully independent, ADA accessible homes, which are then donated to disabled veterans. Most have been installed on the property of a vet’s family, and allow them to live on their own but within reach of their support network.
Before 2019 draws to a close, Impossible Roads will launch another project, a website dedicated to outreach. Very much the opposite of tiny houses, it is global in scale and linked to some of the highest technology available. They are working with NASA, the government agency that not only looks out toward space, but also keeps an eye on all of planet Earth. Impossible Roads borrows NASA’s “terrestrial crisis” map, and overlays a map of people’s social needs. A visitor to the website will be able to locate various hot spots around the world, click on the interactive map, and see what projects are already underway and how they can help.
It’s possible to take part in that project now, even before the website is up. Impossible Roads asks any member of the public to take a picture of any crisis they come across and send it to them via Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. They will add it to their map and make the information available to all, so anybody anywhere can find a project in which to take part.
Impossible Roads is made up of volunteers, a team that Hope calls “a lively mix of a dedicated few.” They make use of a fleet of vehicles, ranging from a fully outfitted mobile kitchen inside of an Airstream trailer to what may be the world’s first “relief trike,” or recumbent bicycle. “Software in each vehicle allows us to track where there is need,” Hope says of this unique method of scouting and responding.
What else is in the works? That all depends on what the world needs next. “There are literally millions of charities in the United States, so it’s important that we’re doing something needed and something innovative. We take our lead from our partnerships and from what people need. Obviously, right now in Whatcom County housing is needed. As far as expansion, we find the pulse of the different communities we work with,” Hope says.
Working with people and communities is what drives John Hope. When he thinks about all the good that was done for him, his response is to turn that good around and share it with others. “Our political climate is in a rough spot,” Hope acknowledges, “Unfortunately I think people forget that there’s good all around, that people are basically good and want to help. People see the opportunity to serve, and they step up to the plate. I can approach any church, any company, even people on the street. I share with them earnestly, and they are willing to help. It’s never failed.”