Tiny Home Village for Homeless Youth Takes Shape in East Bay

Volunteers are helping build what could become the first tiny home village for youth aged 18-25. (Tiffany Camhi/KQED)

In West Oakland on Saturday, about 150 volunteers wielding hammers, saws and other construction tools helped build a dozen small houses.

It’s part of the Berkeley non-profit Youth Spirit Artworks' Tiny House Village Project, a plan to build 100 tiny homes over the next ten years for Bay Area homeless youth.

"Tiny houses are an innovative and reasonable solution to homelessness," said Reginald Gentry, the assistant project manager for the village. "Whether it's a crisis or not, these can definitely help because they're affordable; they're easy to build."

Although the idea of tiny homes for the homeless is not new, this village will be — according to the organizers — the first transitional housing center in the Bay Area that caters specifically to young people.

Gentry says the goal of the community is to break the cycle of homelessness by preventing young people who are in unstable housing situations from falling into it in the first place.

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According to the 2019 point-in-time count, there are 8,022 homeless people in Alameda County. Nine percent of that population are 18-24 year olds and 13% reported their first bout with homelessness began during that same age range.

24-year-old Reginald Gentry has been with the project since its inception in 2017. (Tiffany Camhi/KQED)

The 8 by 10 feet homes are similar to a college dorm room. They will each have a lofted bed, desk, windows and solar-powered electricity. The homes can also be easily moved around since they are built on top of two-wheeled trailers. A common kitchen, bathroom and living space for the village are also in the works.

Youth Spirit Artworks plans to provide social services to the young people at the village including job training, emotional and crisis support and educational opportunities.

Berkeley resident Molly Baskette and her 13-year-old daughter Carmen were among the volunteers that came out over the weekend.

"It seemed like a really meaningful way to spend my Saturday to do something concrete, to shelter some of our most vulnerable neighbors," said Baskette. "It  feels so much better to be doing something than to be going into our houses and shutting our doors and living in our peaceful prosperity."

Molly Baskette and her daughter Carmen spent the day painting wood panels for the tiny homes. (Tiffany Camhi/KQED)

Construction costs for the project total $760,000. Money raised for that part of the project has, so far, come from private sources like family foundations and an online GoFundMe fundraiser, according to Youth Spirit Artworks executive director Sally Hindman.

The city of Berkeley has contributed $85,000 for case management staff, according to Hindman, and the city of Oakland has awarded a $360,000 grant for operating costs when the center opens.

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But there’s still a ways to go before anyone can call the village home.

The current build-out of 12 tiny homes is expected to be completed this fall, and 12 more are slated for construction this winter and into early next year.

Hindman said she's been touched so far by the amount of support from local volunteers and faith groups who are trying to solve the Bay Area's homelessness crisis.

"People from the community have really gotten so tired of seeing people in tents and are realizing that every human being deserves dignity," said Hindman.  "People have picked up hammers and they've said we're going to solve this problem ourselves, we're not waiting for anybody."

The expected move in date for the first 24 tiny homes is July 1, 2020.

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