In November 2013, June lived in a makeshift encampment of tarps and cardboard, squeezed between a road and a chain link fence in West Oakland, California. “It can happen to anybody, man,” he says of life on the street. “Up today, down tomorrow. That’s the way it goes.”
Come last winter, June upgraded from his ramshackle encampment to a pink wooden house with a tan door and shiny roof. The new house, which is just long enough for him to lie down inside, cost only $30 to build.
It’s one of about 25 colorful homes artist Greg Kloehn has fashioned from the massive amounts of garbage dumped illegally in Oakland—a city where a minimum wage worker would have to put in 150-hour weeks to afford a fair market, two-bedroom apartment. He uses whatever materials he happens upon—pallets, bed boards, sheets of plastic, dryer doors. One home has an umbrella and grill propped on its miniature front porch. Wheels accommodate the “nomadic life” of people living on the street, who relocate frequently to avoid cops and city cleanup crews. As Kloehn jokes, he builds “illegal homes out of illegal garbage.”
Similar projects to put tiny roofs over people’s heads have popped up in a handful of US cities. This new approach to homelessness offers the physical protection of a traditional shelter without sacrificing the autonomy of life on the street. And it’s undoubtedly time for some new options: An estimated 578,424 Americans had no home in 2014.
— Katie Rose Quandt, Mother Jones
One of the problems for tiny houses is finding a legal place to put them. Let’s keep working on the homelessness issue.