A row of three modular housing units covered with vibrant murals.

A Colorful Housing Collaborative

Amit Cohen

There are an estimated 700 unhoused, “transition-aged youth” between the ages of 18–24 who live in Alameda County. In addition to gaining independence, these young adults have to deal with obstacles such as food and housing insecurity. Youth Spirit Artworks (YSA), a Berkeley-based non-profit organization, has taken groundbreaking steps to help local, unhoused youth take on these challenges as they enter adulthood.

Founded in 2007, YSA is an art and job training program that aids unhoused and low-income youth gain the “skills, experience, and self-confidence needed to meet their full potential.” In 2016, YSA began a community organizing campaign to build a Tiny House Empowerment Village as part of their effort to build “100 Homes for 100 Homeless Youth” in ten years. While an attempt to build the village in Berkeley fell through in 2018, the Oakland City Council later approved construction at a site near the Oakland Coliseum and granted YSA $360,000 to run the village. In addition to this funding, YSA also ran a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for building materials. 

Over 2,000 artists, activists, and volunteers helped build the Tiny House Village, which includes 26 tiny homes (each with their own private bed), a kitchen yurt and community gathering space, and on-site communal bathrooms and showers. Local artists and youth painted murals on the tiny homes’ walls and fence planks encircling the village, creating a colorful, joyful atmosphere. YSA notes that the village increased the number of youth-designated beds in Alameda County by more than 70 percent, and the community spaces act as venues for job training and community programming. Village members also participate in town hall meetings where they can voice their thoughts and opinions about the direction and management of the village. 

While the Tiny House Empowerment Village recently opened in 2021, YSA already has plans to expand. The organization is currently collaborating with a team of local professionals and students at UC Berkeley and the University of San Francisco to create a new Sustainable Empowerment and Education Development (SEED) Village composed of at least thirty new residential units.

Cover image credit: Youth Spirit Artworks

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