Above: Greg Kloehn sits in a partially finished cart in Oakland, California.
Outside Greg Kloehn’s studio in West Oakland, CA you can see his creations sitting on the sidewalk– wood boxes about 10 feet long, 4 feet tall and about 4 feet wide. Kloehn is an Oakland based artist and carpenter, he creates, among many things, small shelters and gives them out free of charge to the homeless people in his neighborhood. The small homes he builds are a mix of philanthropy, art, and experimentation.
Kloehn, originally a Denver native, moved to West Oakland in the last few years of the 20th century, and though recent gentrification– shifting an urban community to better suit incoming wealthier residents, has been rife throughout much of Oakland, West Oakland has seen little of it. “I would bet in a 10 block radius there’s about 50 to 80 homeless people,” Kloehn says while explaining the motivation behind creating his mobile carts. “The idea pretty much came from the homeless people themselves. I started looking at the structures they built, what they used, and thought ‘Oh, they do actually make stuff.’”
Missing his artistic roots, Kloehn sought to merge carpentry and art. First he created shipping container homes, then he transformed a dumpster into a small house (which he still lives in 2-3 months a year). Then Kloehn wanted to see if he could build a home out completely discarded materials. “For me it’s a good challenge to put something together, work with different materials, different shapes. It’s easy, doesn’t cost much, and it makes such a big impact on someone’s life.”
Skepticism surrounding Kloehn’s project is understandable. I even questioned the ethics of putting homeless people in cart homes, and wondered if it would do anything to help Oakland’s homeless population on a large scale. But looking at Kloehn’s project as a means to end homelessness is the wrong approach. Kloehn’s structures are an exercise in home construction, and a way to take trash off the streets while helping homeless people find shelter all at the same time.
One of Kloehn’s carts was made completely out of old headboards and was going to have a fish tank for a window. Another used old coffee bags as shingles, one’s roof jutted up to give extra head room making it look reminiscent of a submarine.
One of Kloehn’s studios was recently shut down by the fire marshal, which has scaled back production of his carts substantially. Kloehn is seeking monetary, spatial, or material donations. See more carts or donate to his initiative on his website homelesshomesproject.org.
Top photo: Daniel Hills | Bottom photos: Brian J Reynolds