Student Post: Building Homeless Homes with the Homeless Homes Project / by Deland Chan

Written by Geena Chen, B.S. '16

Tucked away in the quaint, freshly rained-on backyard of Stanford’s international-themed co-op, Hammarskjold House, Greg Kloehn’s small flatbed truck rumbled in to the parking lot at 8 AM and promptly unloaded a house-sized crate of power tools, paints, and scrap construction materials scavenged from the Oakland streets near his home. The emptied crate was to become a home by the end of the day: already on a set of wheels, the “house” simply needed to be touched up with windows, a door, 10+ layers of bright paints, and an interior. From 9 AM until well past 6 PM, twenty students from Hammarskjold and beyond delivered just that and a whole new house from scratch. By the end of the day Greg loaded two near-complete homes back on his truck and stuck around to answer individual questions until the sun had set.

Greg Kloehn is an artist, architect, and construction manager based in Oakland, CA. In 2011 he gained national media recognition for building a tiny home out of an abandoned dumpster in Brooklyn, NY, by carving holes for windows and outfitting the dumpster with hardwood floors and a beautiful interior. Since then, Greg has donated over forty of his tiny homes, each constructed with excess building materials dumped on the sidewalk and at a cost of less than $100 total. Greg’s efforts fall under the Homeless Homes Project, which he founded with the mission of giving sturdy, innovative, and semi-permanent homes to the homeless whom he befriended in his neighborhood.

Our day with Greg started with an introduction to safety tips and his power tools, which included a table saw, chop saw, skill saw, angle grinder, nail gun, and plenty of hand drills and screws. From there, the group of fifteen students split into two groups. One group painted and fitted windows and a door onto the crate house, while another group started to build a house from scratch using a discarded pallet from Hamm’s backyard, plywood from Greg’s collection, and an old door that was cut into a smaller rectangle to serve as a fold-out wall. Students used a variety of different tools in the process and contributed their creative, artistic touches when possible.

At lunchtime, another fifteen students joined the workshop participants in the Hamm lounge to listen to Greg present on his work in the Homeless Homes Project the last few years. Greg detailed that the homeless had been doing what he is currently doing for years. Clicking through sequential slides spanning weeks at a time, Greg showed how the homeless in his neighborhood have always been experts at reutilizing discarded material to build shelters for themselves. However, shortly after their projects became functional shelters, city workers would continually confiscate the makeshift structures and leave empty lots in their wake. Over months and years of visiting the same sites, Greg commented on the resilience of his neighbors and cited these observations as what first compelled him to donate a tiny house on wheels to his homeless neighbors. While the tiny homes are not wired with plumbing and electricity, they serve as private storage and sleeping spaces while avoiding the problem of confiscation.

Human Cities Initiative founder Deland Chan facilitated parts of the talk and led a lively student Q&A to wrap up the talk. After lunch, the workshop participants went back to work on the house and produced the following near-final products. Greg has taken the homes back to his studio in East Oakland, where they will be completed and donated to the City of Oakland.

We had a great time hosting Greg at Stanford. When interviewed in the last hour of the event, students named the refreshing opportunity to work with their hands and bodies as part of the event’s appeal, along with a fascination with Greg’s mission and project. We hope to bring students to work with Greg again in the future. Meanwhile, we’re looking forward to seeing photos of the finished homes!

Pictured: House #1, wooden crate on wheels turned into a colorful home complete with pot-lid windows, roofing, a door, and trimming.

Pictured: House #1, wooden crate on wheels turned into a colorful home complete with pot-lid windows, roofing, a door, and trimming.

Pictured: House #2, built from scratch using cut plywood, cut door, and pallet on wheels.

Pictured: House #2, built from scratch using cut plywood, cut door, and pallet on wheels.