Micro-Homes: Initial Thoughts and Inspiration

Meeting Needs

Even in the world’s wealthiest city, there are many basic needs which go unmet when a person is unhoused. One of the most fundamental unmet needs is simple safety from exposure. Hundreds of unhoused people die on the streets of San Francisco every year. According to UCSF, exposure is one of the most common causes of death.

This project is focused on providing safety from exposure. We are building micro-homes to give to unhoused people in order to protect them from exposure and help them stay warm. We also have other projects focused on helping unhoused people meet their needs for many basic supplies.

The police in the San Francisco Bay Area routinely steal critical belongings from unhoused people. Even during the coronavirus pandemic, while unhoused people are dying in the streets from covid-19, the police were still doing sweeps and stealing vital clothes and shelters from unhoused people.

Design Considerations

We have already talked about two important design considerations. The micro-homes need wheels so they are harder for the police to steal. Should people be expected to push them on casters? Should they work like a wagon? What about a bicycle trailer?

The shelters also need to be insulated to help people stay warm and safe from exposure.

In order for us to make enough of these to have a meaningful impact on the problem, the micro-homes need to be durable and affordable to produce.

Sustainability is another critical part of this project. If we can’t keep doing what we’re doing, then we’re not going to make a dent in this problem. We want to try to use recycled material whenever possible.

What Have Others Tried

Artists and innovators are already building micro-homes on wheels in the bay area. The saga of artist Greg Kloehn has led to dozens of wheeled micro-homes for the unhoused being built right here in Oakland. This is the same artist who made the homes shown at the top of the page. Kloehn estimates that his wheeled micro-homes cost an average of around $30-$50 to build. This story highlights the challenges we will face in dealing with a corrupt system that’s working against not just the unhoused, but also against those who want to help them.

There are also examples where formerly unhoused people have turned their attention to building micro-homes on wheels for those who are still unhoused, as Gary Pickering has done. It makes sense. As in the first example, Gary is using recycled materials to produce these wagon-style, Utah micro-homes.

Here is an example of a group in Portland, Oregon that did basically exactly what we are trying to do with BWB/SF. They not only built wheeled micro-homes, but also put together care packages, and they did it all with a gofundme! These are definitely people we will need to network with!

Here is another design from the same Portland, Oregon group as the previous image.

This one is called the “Warmpod.” It’s not on wheels but it looks like it wouldn’t be hard to add them. I added this one because I liked how simple it is. In particular, I like the simple way the windows are built by simply bolting a piece of plexi over an opening. This design seems to have a lot of potential but offers a simple and high-density solution. A lot of these could line up next to each other and provide basic shelter to a lot of people in a small area.

This design from Paul Elkins might need a bit more insulation if it’s going to live in the Bay Area instead of on Playa, but it raises a good point. Many unhoused people have bikes, and we should keep that in mind. Many of the designs I’ve shown so far are either built like a wagon or could be adapted to work like a wagon. If we can find an easy way of attaching them to bikes, then we could make it much easier for people to move around with them. Something to keep in mind.

Check out how the playa bike camper from Paul has evolved over time.

This is probably out of the scope of this project, but I think it serves as a great exercise for thinking outside the box on this problem. For example, why not include a small $10 solar panel so they can charge their devices and hang some fairy lights inside?

Now that’s what I’m talking about! This is a very simple design which we could definitely pull off. It would be easy to insulate. It attaches to the bike. It has everything a person needs to stay out of the elements while maintaining the freedom to move around.

Here’s another example where a person has made a very simple bicycle trailer camper with a solar panel.

This is an actual product for sale called the QTvan. It raises the point that some people may be differently abled and have accessibility devices like power chairs. We should be sure to keep accessibility in mind and potentially design something like this which will give access to this kind of shelter to a broader range of people. (Though we might leave out the flat screen TV)

Here is a video of the build process for a solar-powered bicycle camper with windows, a door, and lots of space for rest.

This example comes from 1935! Inventor Joseph Dorocke designed this collapsible sleeping space in order to do a bicycle tour of America. It closes up to just four feet long, then expands to its full eight foot size when needed.

My last example is basically a bicycle quadrayurt. Designed by Brian Campbell, this enormous bicycle trailer has plenty of room to sleep and stays warm with radiant barrier panels just like a hexayurt.

Check out this link for lots of other bicycle camper designs.

What Do You Think?

Join the conversation on our Facebook group and share your thoughts and inspiration on this and other projects!