Over the weekend, about 200 volunteers took part in building 12 tiny houses for Youth Spirit Artworks, or YSA, all of which will one day form part of the Tiny House Village for homeless youth.
YSA, a Berkeley art and job-training organization, has been planning its Tiny House Village since 2016. The village, which is projected to open July 1, 2020, will have 26 tiny houses in total — 22 for homeless youth and four for resident assistants. The project is part of a larger YSA initiative, “100 Homes for 100 Homeless Youth,” which is a 10-year campaign to build 100 more beds for homeless youth in the East Bay.
“The grander-scheme goal is to create a positively transformative model for homeless people, in particular homeless youth, for other places around the world to use,” said Reginald Gentry, the assistant project manager and a YSA board member. “Tiny houses are an innovative and cost-effective way to combat homelessness.”
YSA Executive Director Sally Hindman said that while the village will most likely be located in Oakland, the beds will be allocated equally to Berkeley and Oakland homeless youth between the ages of 18 and 25, with each city receiving 11 beds. The community will also be open to emancipated youths who are 16 to 18 years old.
District 4 Berkeley City Councilmember Kate Harrison, who visited the YSA construction site over the weekend, described the project as “terrific.”
“It gives you a great feeling to see these buildings go up,” Harrison said. “It’s a positive solution if they can find a place to put them.”
Harrison said both the rising number of homeless people and the increasing length of bouts of homelessness contribute to the project’s importance.
Though YSA is currently working on the part of the program model that would determine admission into the community, according to Gentry, all potential residents must have a three-year plan. Gentry said those accepted would have a maximum of three years in the village, although residents with “severe” cases may be allowed a grace year.
Hindman added that though there will be a strong youth-led component in the community, it would “not be a self-governed village.”
“There will be strong youth leadership, but also other oversight,” Hindman said. “This is young people, so they need some structure. It would not be in their best self-interest for it to be completely self-governed.”
Gentry said the most difficult challenges facing the YSA project are securing more funding and finding a permanent location for the Tiny Home Village. Although several sites have been proposed in Berkeley and Oakland, no permanent location for the village has been found.
Hindman said that while YSA has raised $760,000 in private funds and received $360,000 for operating costs from the city of Oakland, it has not yet received any money from the city of Berkeley, which will receive half of the village’s beds.
Hindman added that the tiny houses would increase the city’s current 23 dedicated beds for homeless youth by 48 percent.
Though the project was considered for inclusion in the 2019-20 budget in June, Stefan Elgstrand, a legislative aide for Mayor Jesse Arreguín, said in an email that the city is considering funding the project either from excess equity or from Measure P revenues. Measure P, which was approved by voters during the midterm elections, created a 1 percent tax increase on the top third of property transfers to fund services to combat homelessness.
Currently, the Mayor’s Supplemental Budget Recommendations have the YSA project slated to possibly receive $78,000. Final funding decisions, however, will not be made until November, according to Elgstrand.
“We need the city’s support this year,” Hindman said. “We need the city to come to the table and make this project possible with their money.”