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Bay Area Homeless Taught to Design, Build Shelter Using Found Materials

OAKLAND (KPIX) -- Homeless encampments are a common sight in many Bay Area communities, especially in the city of Oakland. While city leaders try to find solutions, there is a grassroots effort to build shelter, even if it is just temporary.

Brent Shipp lives on the streets and feels his fate can happen to anyone. He said, "If they lost their jobs and didn't have anything to do, they can easily be in our shoes." His story is an all-too-familiar one. With no income and the high cost of living, he ended up on the streets.

Shipp says all he wants is four walls and a place to safely put his belongings and he has some help to make that happen. Enter a man named Miguel and what he calls "Hobbitats on Wheels."

Miguel Elliott, with Living Earth Structures, has been working with many homeless communities in the Bay Area and has been offering up a solution similar to a tiny home. He calls one recent model the Gingerbread Hut, which comes with a small kitchen, a desk area and a loft for a queen-size mattress.

Elliott mostly uses materials that can be found on the streets to make his "Hobbitat."

One way to get people off the streets, he believes, is for homeless people to learn to construct shelter for themselves.

Elliott says, "Having a program where people with mental illness or the homeless can help design, build and decorate what they're going to be living in could be a fantastic opportunity." The Hobbitat is just one idea for a shelter for the homeless but, in Oakland, they're trying to build a village to move the homeless out of tents.

Paul Brumbaun, who works on the project says, "It's putting a small dent in a very big problem."

He's part of a group of homeless advocates in Oakland that has built the more traditional 8 by 12 structures. Brent Shipp says, "It's like going from a tent to an apartment. It's a big step forward."

The residents here know these structures are at risk of being removed for safety violations. The city of Oakland has an encampment management policy and, according to Justin Berton, a spokesperson for Mayor Libby Schaaf's office, "We assess each encampment based on the criteria of safety, health, size and location. The courts have found the city of Oakland's policy is fair, reasonable and lawful."

Oakland will soon open a community that meets city code at the intersection of Fifth and Oak. Those at the site on on East 12th Street and 16th Avenue hope they can continue to call this place home.

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