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Students Help Design and Construct Tiny House Village for Homeless Youth

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Forty-one University of San Francisco students and their professor put all their efforts into creating a complete village consisting of tiny houses for homeless young people. 

This small village is situated in Oakland and can accommodate up to 28 individuals. Seth Wachtel is the associate professor and the director of the USF architecture program. A nonprofit in Berkeley named Youth Spirit

Artworks came to Wachtel to request help to develop the site plan for creating a tiny house village for homeless young people ages 18-24, many of whom have aged out of the Foster care system and find themselves with nothing and on the street. 

Most of these young people were are studying in a community college or seeking skills training and work opportunities. 

As part of the community outreach component of the USF Architecture program, Wachtel works with teams of students on real-world projects for underserved communities. This project is one of them, and with the student team, the master plan was developed with critical involvement from the youth themselves and YSA leadership.

They faced many obstacles, including objections made by people in the Berkeley neighborhood of the first site and some local threats and lease challenges at the second site in Oakland. Finally, in late 2019, the city of Oakland offered a third and final site on an acre of land on Hegenberger Road adjacent to the Ring Central Coliseum. 

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In the spring semester of 2020, Professor Wachtel and a USF Architecture student team came up with another master plan.

Finally, the plan was approved by the city, and construction on the site began in June 2020. As they say, “third time lucky.” The plan now was to create a village of 28 tiny houses on wheels, including 30-foot diameter yurts for community gatherings, laundry facilities, and kitchen, and six bathrooms in custom trailers. 

Students build raised beds at the Tiny Homes

Four of the houses are ADA accessible, with three more easily added. With the help of hundreds of volunteers, dozens of faith groups and companies, alumni, and other volunteers, the tiny houses were built over the past two years and brought to the village site during the crisis summer and fall of 2020. The yurts, restrooms, and over one hundred raised bed gardens were added along the way, and the village is currently adding a clinic and a gallery to show and sell the art made by the residents.

Vibrant murals add drama and uplifting beauty to the environment which takes the breath away from visitors who enter the village gate. 

On the 2nd of April, The Youth Spirit Artworks Empowerment Village on Hegenberger Road was opened for its young homeless residents. Most of the new residents are the same age as the USF students who collaboratively created the village design and participated in this home building project. 

Despite all the problems that came their way, the team never gave up. Even the USF student participants were grateful for this multi-semester opportunity because it gave them the chance to give back into the community and use their growing architectural skills to lend a helping hand to youth facing challenges. 

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In a different project, architecture students at KU in Douglas County, Kansas, successfully transformed 12 storage containers into homes for homeless families. With this project, they provided shelter for 6-12 families in the backyard of the Lawrence Community Shelter. 

These initiatives are all about ending homelessness and treating the homeless with respect and dignity. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could do the same in our area? Then the world will unquestionably become a better place to live. 

Tiny houses are definitely on the trend currently. They have some benefits, yet there are also many challenges.

Tiny houses are about simple living, which sounds fantastic as you spend less money on rent or mortgage. On the downside, there would probably be many things you would have to get rid of all the stuff that you don’t need. 

Cramming everything you’re used would be a problem. There would be luxuries such as dishwashers, washing machines that you would have to cut out. Not to forget you now could only get a mini-fridge in and no oven. 

Permission was granted for images. Image credits and more info: University of San Francisco

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