Homeless camps spill out onto the street; underpasses are loaded with stolen tents and makeshift shelters; housing prices are rising. Minimalist living is not so much a desire in a crowded place like the Bay Area, but it is becoming a necessity. The sustainable movement of tiny homes is making waves in Berkeley. Not just as a trendy way to live more with less, but also as a creative solution to the homeless epidemic that has raged in Berkeley for years. The Berkeley City Council unanimously passed a vote to house 100 homeless in prefabricated tiny homes.
“We are houseless, not homeless. The term I like is shelterless. The world is my home,” said a local houseless activist, “Michelle.” Berkeley currently hosts 1,000 homeless individuals, and many are living in tents on the side of the roads, or under a piece of cardboard leaned to a wall to protect them from the elements. The number of homeless in Berkeley has grown steadily in recent years, which has also increased the amount of tent theft for individuals trying to find shelter. Nonprofits do what they can, but the tiny home movement offers a more permanent solution.
“Everybody would jump on that. We would all prefer to live in a permanent home, instead of tents, if we could,” said a local Berkeley homeless man living next to artist Steve Gilman’s “HERE THERE” sculpture. This sculpture, situated next to the BART train tracks, used to be a large homeless encampment, until BART built a fence on the lot stretching to the sidewalk. Instead of deterring the local homeless, it pushed them up the street to make camp. Driving past, you can see an organized row of tents big and small sheltering people at night. Camps like these are often roused and cleared out, only to have new or previous tenants fill the open space.
With freeway underpasses being filled to the point of overcrowding, the tiny home solution offers a permanent and more sustainable means of housing. Oakland has built two permanent communities of Tuff Sheds in a pioneering step towards permanent housing. Berkeley City Councilman Ben Bartlett has spearheaded the proposal for expediting the order of up to 100 prefabricated tiny homes. Berkeley City Council unanimously approved 100 micro units to be built and installed on city-owned land under the Step Up Housing Initiative. The proposal was passed in February of 2017, and in August of 2018, the second prefabricated modular housing building is still under construction according to ABC 7 News.
Prefabricated permanent housing structures are a welcome adjustment to the makeshift tent camps dotted around the city. One local outdoor retail store manager, who prefers to remain anonymous, with more than 20 years of retail experience, has seen tents stolen nearly every week from his store. While he does not condone the theft, he understands the necessity that forces people to find shelter for the night, no matter the risk. He also believes that permanent housing structures would be a good solution if land to build on would be more readily available.
This local store manager was homeless himself for a short time by choice. During his tenure on the streets of Berkeley, he learned how big an impact small things can make. Permanent shelters can offer security for personal belongings, a blanket for the night, a bit of food and a small shelter to sleep under. Tiny home villages would offer this opportunity to those who have the need.
It is not entirely up to the City of Berkeley to help with the homeless issue, and few local citizens have started to voice interest in building tiny homes themselves for the homeless. Taking after Greg Kloehn, a local Oakland artist who designed, built and gave away 20 tiny home structures to the homeless, Berkeley citizens and homeless are all looking towards the tiny-home movement as a real solution to the issue facing Berkeley.
Where to build is the next step. Local homeless man and activist, Liberty, says that Corporation Yard would be a good place to start. Located near Bancroft and Addison Street, corporation yard has plenty of empty space not currently being used that would house more than 100 homeless if the Berkeley City Council voted to start work. Liberty, a veteran, says that he and the other homeless around Berkeley will need actual space to live and survive, and being chased from one lot to another by the police is not a viable solution to the housing problem.