End the Criminalization of Homelesness

Greg Kloehn dumpster retrofit

Target: Mayor Jean Quan of Oakland

Goal: Applaud a local artist’s low-cost housing made from discarded materials, and urge officials to end camping bans targeting the homeless

Camping outside is illegal in many places across America. As poverty and unemployment have soared during the Recession cities have enforced camping  bans as a way to rid business districts of homeless people sleeping in vacant lots and doorways, beneath bridges and in vehicles. Oakland, California forcibly shut down an Occupy protest encampment across from City Hall using a camping ban as justification.

Oakland artist Greg Kloehn has responded to the homelessness epidemic by creating small, movable structures out of discarded materials and giving them to area people without shelter. His first creation sat unused in his garage until a woman in his neighborhood came to him one day and asked for a tarp to help her stay dry. He gave her the durable, small and secure structure and set about to make more. Kloehn has given away more than a dozen of his creations to Oakland residents experiencing homelessness, and now offers workshops as a way of supporting people interested in doing the same.

What Kloehn has done won’t solve the issue of homelessness on its own, but his numerous acts of compassion and generosity are no less worthy of praise. Oakland’s anti-camping laws still threaten the grateful recipients of Kloehn’s shelters, however. Support the human rights of people forced to live outside and urge city officials to end the inhumane criminalization of homelessness.


Dear Mayor Quan,

Many Oakland residents have expressed support for artist Greg Kloehn’s functional pieces. Volunteers help Kloehn collect the discarded materials used in construction from the city’s streets. He offers workshops on how to build small, mobile structures like his first, donated to a neighbor named Charlene who had been homeless on the streets of Oakland for years. Beyond their ingenious construction and durability Kloehn’s creations offer something precious which most Americans take for granted: a place, however modest, to call home.

Kloehn should be praised for his generous spirit and commitment to making a difference in the lives of fellow Oakland residents forced to live outside. But I worry that city officials may not agree. Your camping bans criminalize makeshift structures now such a common sight in urban areas around the nation. These unjust laws make criminals out of people sleeping in their vehicles. This is outrageous given how limited shelter space is, worsened by the recent closure of the old Oakland Army Base shelter.

Not all city residents will be able to enjoy the area’s investments in redevelopment. Your constituents in greatest need must often survive in whatever temporary structures they can find, making each of Kloehn’s functional art pieces a gift of conscious compassion. Please end Oakland’s anti-camping ordinances and devote stronger support to area residents experiencing homeless.


[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: Hrag Vartanian via Flickr

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