There are plenty of people in Sonoma County talking about solving the homeless problem.
Harold Wallin is one of those doing something about it.
For weeks, the 59-year-old artist, aided by a crew of volunteers, has been building small wooden shelters he hopes will keep homeless people safe and dry this winter. He doesn’t know who will use them, where they will 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.
He just knew that, seeing the scope of the homeless problem in Sonoma County, he had to do something.
“I said to myself, ‘Let’s just do something that makes so much sense that no one could say no to it,’” Wallin said recently from the field in southwest Santa Rosa where, in the shade of eucalyptus trees, he’s been assembling the mini-structures.
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 here with his wife four years ago, 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, which are 90 percent done. The First United Methodist Church let Wallin use a barn on its seven-acre Stony Point Road property to build them.
The church has plans of its own to establish a tent camp on a different part of the property, but the huts are not expected to be utilized for that project, church officials said.
Adrienne Lauby, with Homeless Action, says Wallin is tapping into the frustration people feel that more isn’t being done to address the local homeless problem. While local governments are doing more than they ever have, additional action is needed and people see that need daily.
“There is frustration, and people want to do something and they don’t want to wait through another cold, dark winter,” Lauby said. “So this is channeling that energy.”
She’s been talking to church and nonprofit groups, businesses and individual property owners about distributing the huts when they’re done in a couple weeks. But where they’ll go hasn’t been determined.