Markaya stands in front of her wooden tiny home. The new side is light brown, compared to the previous structure, which is dark brown.

Markaya Spikes stands next to her home. To her left, the new portion added by volunteers can be seen. (Thomas Brouns)

Thanks to supplies donated by The Village in Oakland and the hard work of a group of volunteers, two unhoused families’ tiny homes became a bit less tiny. On January 23 and 24, members of the unhoused community and a handful of passersby from nearby businesses joined forces to expand the size of two trailer-mounted tiny homes by about 50 percent each. The families living in those homes had been temporarily staying in a hotel under The Village’s “hotels not graves” program, an emergency shelter for people experiencing homelessness, who are often at a higher risk of exposure to the coronavirus. To facilitate the expansion project, the trailer-mounted tiny homes were towed from their usual locations in Oakland to a work site on the corner of 7th and Peralta in West Oakland.

Markaya Spikes provided an overview of the improvements being made to her home and that of Vanessa Trinidad. By expanding the living space onto the front part of the trailer chassis, she was able to expand the living and storage space for herself and her daughter, as well as upgrade the home’s bathroom. 

Ideas on how to modify the living space and make it more functional came from living in the tiny home more than a year and a half. “Also just basically taking our ideas from what you see from people being normally housed, and transferring it to a tiny house,” Spikes added.

The volunteers who worked on the expansion were provided lunch and beverages by The Village. Needa Bee, founder of The Village, was handing out hot dogs, coffee, and pizza, which attracted a handful of passersby and local business owners. She cheerfully offered food to them as well, but artfully persuaded them to contribute a few hours of work to the expansion project in return.

This is just one of the ways affordable housing is built in Oakland. Bureaucratic wheels turn slowly, and unsheltered people house each other in the interim. 

Thomas Brouns is a documentary filmmaker and student at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism. He has served four overseas tours as an American diplomat and is a retired U.S. Army officer.