Pieter Kruit is a San Francisco painting contractor and a noted documentary filmmaker.* John Kennaugh is a San Francisco furniture maker. One day, Pieter Kruit was painting the building next door to John Kennaugh’s house on Russian Hill. “I looked over,” Kruit remembers, “and there in the basement I was surprised to see a complete wood shop.” The painter had an idea of immediate, practical help to the homeless who, like mushrooms in a redwood forest after a rain, are everywhere in San Francisco. The painter introduced himself to the woodworker.
Kruit needed someone to make his idea real. He needed a prototype. He’d come to the right man in Kennaugh, furniture maker to some of San Francisco’s leading citizens. If Kennaugh can’t make it, it can’t be made.
“Ah, I said to myself," Kruit recalls, "this is the man I’ve been looking for.”
The two talented gentlemen hit it off and just may have created an idea whose time arrived many yesterdays ago. The housepainter had been mulling over his idea for months. Wouldn’t it be of huge benefit to both the homeless and the frustrated everyday citizen if the homeless were housed in neater, safer little structures of their own, pretty little homes on wheels that could be moved simply by pushing them?
“As it is,” Kruit says, “the homeless are shoved from place to place, their belongings piled up on the sidewalks, and the whole city is in an uproar about the mess they make."
“My shop,” Kruit explained, “is on a little street in the Bayview. Everyday when I come to work I step over the homeless. It bothers me, all these people sleeping on the pavement on my street and everywhere in the city. I want to put the homeless inside, out of the weather, off the pavement, out of doorways. My idea is a tiny home on wheels made out of wood and brightly painted, tiny homeless houses consistent with the creative spirit of this city.”
K and K put their heads together, and soon they’d built the tiniest of tiny houses, a mobile homeless home in which the homeless person can safely sleep and store his few belongings, high and dry and neatly out of the way.
“You see the poor creatures pushing all their things in shopping carts or trying to carry their belongings however they can in big bundles,” Kruit says. “My idea would be cheap to build, efficient, safe, even attractive places for them."
As an immigrant from the Netherlands, Kruit is perhaps doubly disturbed by the disorder he sees daily in his adopted city, a civic chaos unknown to the Dutch and unknown in America until recently.
San Francisco spends $320 million a year on the homeless, but for every homeless person housed it seems two more homeless persons appear. The city has been handing out tents to the homeless, the result being a more intractable sidewalk squalor. A spiffy little rainproof house on wheels would be a major step forward, especially if accompanied by bathrooms and showers.
K&K’s prototype is a work in progress. The one pictured here is made out of cardboard and has since been brightly painted in red, white and blue. The one homeless guy to inspect it "was very enthusiastic," Kruit reports. "Now, all we need is a backer who can finance construction of a few and support from the city in trying them out."
*The film is called Trapper Jake, a vivid depiction of a man living close to nature. We give it the AVA’s highest recommended viewing.