If someone were to walk down the streets of Oakland, California, they would see homeless people and illegally dumped trash.
They’d also see artist and Oakland man, Gregory Kloehn, building colorful micro homes, which are making a big difference for the city’s most vulnerable.
These homes are painted in vibrant colors of pink, yellow, green and red and are adorned with windows, a small door and some have a geometrically-shaped skylight.
Inside one is a hardwood floor and a couple of small windows to let in the sunlight.
Another has a little shelving system for storage use, a splatter painting hung on one of the walls for some decoration and a raised, square-shaped skylight that’s lending additional lighting.
All of these micro homes come with locks and small ventilation systems to let in some air during hot days. The roofs are either flat top or curved and they are all rain proof to keep everything inside dry. The houses all have wheels on the bottom and are light enough to be able to move them wherever and whenever they need to be moved. There are also reflective lights on the outside so people will be able to spot these homes in the dark.
The homes are small enough to fit anywhere without taking a lot of space but big enough for a fully grown person to be able to lay inside comfortably. Some people would describe it as a Volkswagen beetle – small enough to fit anywhere but big enough to fit inside.
With the vibrant colors and the sleek and sturdy interiors, it is hard to imagine that these were once piles of illegally dumped trash – but that is exactly what Kloehn used when he set about putting creative roofs over many homeless residents’ heads.
“I like grabbing a cup of coffee, getting into my car and just drive around and watch the midnight dumping,” he says about his process. “Afterward I just sift through [the trash], grab what I can find and transform it into a home.”
Kloehn is an artist and contractor who has been working on these micro homes for six years now. His inspiration is the homeless people on the streets of Oakland and San Francisco.
Oakland alone has close to 7,000 homeless people and Kloehn says he always saw them making their own homes out of whatever they could find.
“Like the Eskimo’s making homes out of igloos, the homeless would take what we would consider garbage and recycle it to make their homes,” says Kloehn. “Like nomadic tribes making homes out of anything they could find, it shows people’s drive and what they can do.”
The entire idea started with a homeless woman named Sheila Williams.
Williams went up to Kloehn’s studio one day and asked him for a tarp he had laying around. He gave her the tarp and watched her as she went back outside and fashioned the old tarp into a roof for her makeshift house. Watching her make a house out of recycled materials inspired him to begin building these colorful recycled dwellings.
Kloehn decided to use the illegally dumped trash he found because Oakland is trying to curb the illegal dumping of trash on sidewalks and under freeways. He would grab anything from broken washer machine doors, bed boards, wooden planks, tarps, broken pieces of plastic sheeting, reflective lights from bicycles and anything else he found.
Kloehn presented Williams with the first house he ever made.
He was stunned by what a profound effect it had on the woman’s quality of life. For the first time in many years, she now had a roof that didn’t leak and a place to keep her and her stuff safe; for her, it was a brand new home.
The relationship between Kloehn and Williams did not stop there. Williams has become a spokesperson for Kloehn. Her job includes spreading the word to other homeless people about Kloehn and doing interviews for local papers about the project. She also gets the word out about his workshops.
Williams says she’s helped Kloehn for so long and she is definitely in it until the end because she likes the fact that the homeless gets these homes for free. She is driven to help Kloehn help the homeless.
Williams is not the only homeless person impacted by Kloehn.
Stacy Wilson has also gotten a home from Kloehn – but he feels he has gotten so much more from knowing Kloehn.
“A hell of a guy he is,” Wilson said. “He don’t just build the houses; he talks to us. You can talk to him about anything. I tell him when I am having a bad day or am upset about something and he just listens and gives me advice. He’s one of my friends.”
The city of Oakland has been very driven to help as well, according to Kloehn. He hosts workshops where people see some of the houses he’s built and build their own houses. For his very first workshop, he made fliers telling people about it. He expected there to be about 30 – 40 people but, as it turned out, there ended up being 100 people.
The city loves the creativity behind these houses because, instead of trash on the sidewalks, there are micro homes. Kloehn says the homeless really appreciate the houses and they do their best to keep them clean.
Kloehn learned to build houses while in art school. He says he took a shop class where he learned to work with building tools. From there he went on to turn shipping containers into homes and then dumpsters into homes. After that, he began creating the homes for the homeless.
“With a little creativity and effort you can make a change,” Kloehn says. “It doesn’t take a big stack of money or city officials to have a profound effect. That was my goal. Do something revolutionary and change people’s mind about what they can do.”