(This story originally published April 2, 2014)
Greg Kloehn wonders why it didn’t dawn on him sooner.
The West Oakland artist had long been fascinated by the temporary shelters his homeless neighbors created for themselves out of materials they scavenged from the street.
So fascinated, in fact, a couple of years ago, Greg decided to give one a try. “I wanted to build a home in a day, for no money.”
One week (and $50) later, he had one: a tiny home on wheels, long enough to lie down in, not tall enough to stand in, roughly the size of a compact car.
And that was that.
Greg had no plans for what to do with it once completed, so the home simply sat in his studio for months.
Then, one rainy night, Charlene, a homeless woman in Greg’s neighborhood, knocked on his door.
“She asked if I had a tarp,” Greg recalls. “I told her, no, I didn’t.”
As Greg walked back into his studio, though, he glanced at the home, “and I thought, What am I doing with this? So I ran back outside, and said, ‘Charlene, come back tomorrow and I’ll have a home for you.'”
The next day Charlene did return. Greg wheeled the home out to the street, handed her a bottle of champagne and keys to the refrigerator door that was the home’s front entrance.
“As soon as I gave it away,” Greg says, “it felt so good. Why didn’t I think of this sooner?”
While he may have been late to the idea, Greg is now making up for lost time. Each morning, with a cup of coffee in one hand and his van’s steering wheel in the other, Greg scours the streets around his home and studio looking for the piles of illegally dumped trash that show up every night.
From the piles he takes anything that might help him build a home: pallets, 2x4s, refrigerator doors and shelving, and paint.
A team of volunteers helps Greg mold those pieces into tiny, moveable structures.
Since his first home give-away, Greg has built more than a dozen small homes on wheels and gifted them to the area’s homeless.
“Everyone’s really happy,” Greg says about the donations, “lots of hugs, lots of happiness. That’s the best part for me.”
Greg does not claim that his homes are the answer to the problem of homelessness, they are simply a way for one man to do something nice for a person in need of a little help.
“It’s funny,” Greg says, “they may be homeless, but they are my neighbors.”