Thursday, September 22, 2016

H.U.T.S. Ten Shelters for Ten Homeless People in Santa Rosa


Harold's Utilitarian Transitional Shelters 


Harold's Story


H.U.T.S., with a mattress, costs about $600 each in materials and can be built with volunteer labor.  You can help!

An Introduction

I started thinking about homeless shelters as an artist looking for a solution to a problem. The more sketches I made the more clear it became what I wanted to achieve. I wanted a safe, secure shelter for a person and their possessions, one that is mobile, and allows a person to maintain their dignity. The shelter would, by necessity, be lockable while away and securable from within.

So the design criteria became: functional, lightweight, portable, easily built, and inexpensive. There had to be room to sleep comfortably, with a place to sit, and full standing headroom. A pretty tall order.

After the 1906 earthquake, San Francisco responded to the needs
of the homeless survivors, building 5,610 tiny refugee shacks.
These shelters were designed by John McLaren, the "father of
Golden Gate Park" and built by the United States Army.  The
San Francisco Chronicle said on October 21, 1906 that these
helters were "the teeniest, cutest little dovecotes of houses one ever saw”. Kitchen and bathing facilities were communal and located outside of the shacks.

For me all the pieces fell into place on a visit to San Francisco. I saw its residential architecture, and it helped inspire the ridiculous idea of putting two bay windows on a very small box. Bay windows are a defining characteristic of San Francisco homes. A garden cart was the other missing piece. If you look closely you can still see the garden cart in there! Over the cart's handles I put a shed extension, making room for a person's feet while sleeping. This allowed the shelter to look very compact and unassuming from the outside, yet feel quite roomy on the inside. Under the sleeping platform, there is interior storage for four standard 12 gallon plastic totes with hinged lids, about four suitcases worth of storage.

The image of an attractive bungalow-style shelter gave me the thought that the homeless should not be hidden, they ought to be seen and accepted as part the community. Why shouldn't they be a part of the community? 86% of Sonoma County's homeless were residents when they became homeless. This is why I've tried to make the shelter fit in, and attractive, by adding various visual cues that suggest 'home' and 'house'. A grouping of H.U.T.S. will look so much better than an encampment of makeshift tents.

The Problem

Now where do they go? That is a real thorny issue. As it is now, in so many ways, the homeless are asked to be invisible, in the underlying hope that if conditions are made bad enough for them they will simply just go away. Though it is is not illegal to be homeless, it is illegal to seem homeless.

When sleeping in public is illegal, where do you sleep when there is nowhere to sleep? All this is not only crazy-making, it is foolish and cruel.

At first I had the homeless of Oakland and San Francisco in mind, since the cities tacitly allow the homeless in public so long as they do not set up a permanent residence. I thought with these vendor-like carts they could setup wherever might be acceptable that day. Should they get rousted in the middle of the night, they could more easily push down the street not having to take down a tent, load their belongings in a shopping cart, and flee with one crooked wheel clacking.

Late at night on June 27, 2016, Cirak Tesfazgi, a young homeless Eritrean man, was murdered in downtown Santa Rosa while sleeping in a store front alcove. He was by all accounts a kind, gentle soul who sold pamphlets of his poetry in front of Peet's Coffee shop.  It sent a shock through both the homeless and business communities. Under pressure, the city council's homeless policy subcommittee also took it to heart.

By coincidence it was around this time I was nearing completion of the shelter prototype, having started construction without knowing if it would, in the end, be of any use. I worked simply with the question in mind, if I were on the street what is the minimum I would need? I began looking into the homeless advocacy scene in Santa Rosa, going to the city council's homeless policy subcommittee meeting. There it was my great good fortune to meet Adrienne Lauby of Homeless Action!.  She was very open to the H.U.T.S. design.

The mayor and city council were eventually persuaded to take the bold step to declare a state of homeless emergency. Doing so allows zoning restrictions to be relaxed and action more quickly taken. It is now being decided exactly what will be allowed. It is my hope that small intentional communities of 6-10 shelters can be set up on church, city, or state property. There toilet and personal hygiene facilities can be brought in, or shared.

Intentional Communities

Community is the foundation of security for the homeless. A safe transitional place, that hints at a way out, is needed. A place where one can pull themself together. A place where social services can offer help. A safe place to sleep, and a safe place to keep personal belongings.  A place to sleep free from harassment.

Yet this little shelter is only an answer for those who are called the chronically homeless, those who have found themselves by circumstance out on the streets for an extended time. Immediately helping these people, in a most desperate situation, would not preclude a more comprehensive long term solution. It would, in fact, work in tandem with it, forming an integral part of a larger answer.

H.U.T.S. are not houses, not even tiny houses. They are envisioned as a transitional shelter and humanitarian relief.

Call for Action

Please consider helping us with our efforts in this emergency. Help us give some people a safe, dry place to sleep this winter.

Partners and Construction Plans

Homeless Action!, Task Force for the Homeless, and AmeriCorps volunteers are planning to construct ten H.U.T.S. on a Day of Service, Oct. 22, 2016.  AmeriCorps volunteers will be seeking donations of construction materials. If you are able to donate, in any way, please contact Kaitlin Carney, Volunteer Program Assistant,

Along with the AmeriCorps volunteers dedicated to this project, Homeless Action! and the Task Force for the Homeless will call on their local networks and connections to ensure this project succeeds. And, of course, homeless people will be helping at every stage.

What We Need for Success

1) Access to a construction site for approximately three weeks. Ideally, a large parking lot with covered parking to stage materials, with basic measures to discourage theft and vandalism. We will need time to collect and deliver the materials to the site before work begins. When we start building we will use assembly line construction with up to 40 people working in a coordinated team effort. If you know of such a space please contact Cynthia Stebbins, Homeless Action! Project Coordinator,

2) A place for the H.U.T.S. community to settle. Community is the basis for security. Although H.U.T.S. could be parked in individual parking stalls, or used almost any place where people currently sleep outdoors, we believe they will have their greatest benefit if they are situated in a place with access to toilets, hand washing and shower facilities, and an outdoor kitchen.  We hope a community of H.U.T.S. will create stability, friendship, cooperation, and trust. We see it as a place where community can grow.

3)  Donations of materials and money to buy materials.  Here's how to donate.

Harold Wallin
Santa Rosa, California

H.U.T.S. design, and H.U.T.S. photographs, © Harold Wallin 2016

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