There are plenty of people in Sonoma County talking about solving the homeless problem.
Harold Wallin is one of those doing something about it.
The 59-year-old artist, aided by a crew of volunteers, built small wooden shelters he hopes will keep homeless people safe and dry in the winter. He didn't know who will use them, where they would be located, or any of the other logistical, political or regulatory issues that might be associated with building and giving away the tiny structures for homeless people.
Seeing the scope of the homeless problem in Sonoma County, he had to do something.
|Eileen Bill, with Homeless Action Volunteering, works to build H.U.T.S., Harold's Utilitarian Transitional Shelters, at First United Methodist Church of Santa Rosa on Giffen Ave. Photo taken in Santa Rosa by Beth Schlanker/The Press Democrat.
"I said to myself, 'Let's just do something that makes so much sense that no one could say no to it,'" Wallin said.
His reason for rallying in such a way? Perhaps it's because he's an artist, prone to dashing off a number of paintings when inspired and then figuring out how to sell them later. Or perhaps it's because he's from Anchorage, Alaska, where, in his experience, when something needs to get done, people just get together and do it.
Whatever the reason, Wallin, who designed power poles before retiring in Santa Rosa, California with his wife, found himself building a hut in the garage of his Junior College neighborhood home this summer.
He envisioned a shelter just large enough for a homeless person to keep their stuff dry and sleep in. He wanted them to be simple enough — they cost about $600 each — that they could be assembled quickly and easily. He also thought they should be light enough that a person could move it if necessary. And he wanted them to be unobtrusive.
"I guess I wanted them to have the smallest footprint possible because I didn't want to impose on the community," Wallin said.
He shared his idea with advocates of the homeless in Santa Rosa, and was met with encouragement, donations, and volunteers willing to help.
Donations from the Sonoma County Homeless Task Force, Homeless Action and AmeriCorps have raised more than $6,000 for the project, enough to fund 10 huts. The First United Methodist Church let Wallin use a barn on its seven-acre Stony Point Road property to build them.
Wallin's huts, which are slightly larger than his original prototype, are about 30 square feet and are made of two-by-threes and plywood. They have windows, roofs, and are just large enough for a 6-foot-tall person to stand up in and sleep in. Part of the sleeping platform pops out to access a few square feet worth of storage.
"I put myself in it," Wallin said of the prototype, "and I thought 'What would I need to feel good out there?'"
Wallin admits he may be naïve about the financial or political issues that could be keeping local governments from acting more swiftly. If his work helps people who need it while at the same time prodding public officials, that's fine with him.
But he knows that his huts aren't a long-term solution.
"This only speaks to a small part of the homeless population," he said. "This is not a comprehensive answer. This is trying to help a few people out."
Kevin McCallum, Press Democrat of Santa Rosa
One of seven apportioned giving opportunities of The United Methodist Church, the World Service Fund is the financial lifeline to a long list of Christian mission and ministry throughout the denomination. Through the Four Areas of Focus churches are engaging in ministry with the poor which encourages them to be in ministry with their communities in ways that are transformative. Please encourage your leaders and congregations to support the World Service Fund apportionment at 100 percent.