Oakland, CA Temporary Homeless Shelter


There are an estimated 100 million people who face homelessness around the world. In the Bay Area, the tech boom has brought more development, causing an increase in rents, forcing more people onto the streets. This has resulted in Oakland’s estimated homeless population of 2,800+ people. Many of the homeless populations are located underfreeways, as in the photo to the right. These makeshift communities are crowded and often have a lot of litter. I have become more aware of Oakland’s homeless population through volunteering in the kitchen and dinning room at St Vincent de Paul. Organizations such as St. Vincent de Paul provide daily hot meals, medical services and other resources for homeless and low-income people/families.  






Through my research, I came into contact with Joe DeVries, an official for The City of Oakland. From him, I was able to gain a fuller understanding of the project. The following is an abbreviated version of the information I gained from our conversation. For the full documentation of my conversation with Joe DeVries please see my project google doc at the bottom of this page.

The City of Oakland has partnered with Operation Dignity to bring temporary shelter to the homeless population. The current site has 20 tuff sheds that provide shelter for 40 residents.  The current shelters are 10×12 ft tuff sheds with one window. Through the course of the project, those working on the project have learned that the current sheds do not have enough insulation or ventilation. Additionally, with only one window, there is not much natural light. Each shed has a cot, air mattress and rechargeable light for each person.

The goal of the project is to transition people from the streets to permanent housing, using these houses as a middle step. Each person works with a case manager to help them find jobs and housing. While currently only in the opening phase of the project, plans are underway to create more temporary housing sites.






If you were in this situation, would you feel comfortable living in this shelter?

Do you think the current temporary housing is a good solution to homelessness?



These three shelters provided inspiration for my own design. One key feature that I borrowed from these designs was their simplicity. This simplicity allows for them to be easily constructed/deconstructed and mass produced.

Better Shelter Ablenook Tentative
The Better Shelter was designed for refugees. It features a solar panel on the roof that charges an interior light and can also charge a cell phone. The frame can be easily added or subtracted from to create smaller or larger spaces.  Designed for disaster relief, the Ablenook can be easily assembled and dismantled. This feature makes it perfect for unpredicted storms, earthquakes, etc. The roof can collect rainwater and also has a solar panel. The Tentative shelter was designed as a result of natural disasters displacing people from their homes. The floor of the Tentative shelter is insulated and raised above the floor to keep those inside dry and comfortable.

More information on these projects and the rest of the projects I learned from can be found in my project google doc linked at the bottom of this page.



Addressing homelessness is key to this project. The design is simple and easily moveable so that it can be placed on different sites. Additionally, the design incorporates natural light to provide the shelter with a sense of openness to counter its small size. The shelter is designed with the elements in mind, providing insulation and waterproofing. The materials reflect the simpleness of the structure and are cost effective.   


The first photo is of my initial bubble diagram. This diagram helped me think about how different aspects of the space would interact with each other. The second sketch is one of the floor plans that I came up with. While this was not the floor plan I ended up finalizing, it helped me think about the different types of clients that could utilize the space. The model allowed me to conceptualize what the shelter could look like if it were actually built and envision what it would be like to step inside. The sketch of the site plan helped me brainstorm different ways to maximize light and views for each of the shelters. While not to scale, I was able to utilize many of the ideas formed in this sketch for my final model.



I decided to design a simple unit to house two people. The one-room shelter serves as a bedroom and a place to store belongings. There will be additional structures on the site serving as a dining area, community space, bathrooms, and garden. In order to contrast the small size of the structure, I added windows to the three sides of the house that receive the most light to open up the space. The windows also help ventilate the interior. The roof is extended over the entrance of the structure to provide cover from the elements.

To make the structure more affordable, plywood is used to cover the structure on the inside of the building. I chose to use cement boarding for the outside of the structure because of its durability. Additionally, composition singles are used to provide a durable and long-lasting material for the roof.




This site is an ideal. In reality, the price for this amount of shelters and garden beds would probably be outside of this budget. However, the general aspects of the site could easily be applied to the actual site. Staggering the layout of the houses gives each house the same light and views. The community tents in the middle of the site give easy access to all shelters. Although not pictured, the fence around the site would be covered with a tarp to give residents more privacy. 

I also created a map of the site in relation to homeless services which can be found on the bottom of this page. This map would be available to all residents. If they had a phone they could acess it through that, or printed copies could be avaible in the community area.





The garden tubs give residents a sense of purpose while also making the site more visually pleasing. 









Resource for Further Information:

Complete Project Design and Documentation can be found HERE:

The GoogleMap of Homeless Resources can be found HERE:

 Image Sources:

Tents under freeway: 

Tuff shed site: my own photo 

Tuff shed front view: 

Better Shelter: 



Share this project
  1. April 27, 2018 by katevr

    I really liked the high possible impact this project could have on urban communities. Living in Oakland, this issue is very relevant and important to me. Do you think this could actually be implemented in the near future?

    • April 28, 2018 by Sydney.Medford

      I don’t know how much of the project could be implemented, but I definitely think aspects of the site plan such as the layout of the shelters or addition of garden beds could be implemented. I am in contact with an official from the City of Oakland who has been working on this project. Besides sharing my ideas with him I would love to get more involved with the project and implement change in that way as well.

  2. April 27, 2018 by Petra

    This is so good and interesting, Sydney! I love your designs for the shelter and the site. I think you have a great balance between text and images.

    • May 01, 2018 by Sydney.Medford

      Thanks for viewing my page!

  3. April 27, 2018 by Kira Johnson

    This is such a cool idea! My project is in many ways very similar to yours as it is also coming up with an idea for temporary housing as a solution to homelessness. It’s really interesting to see how you decided to tackle the issue and I especially liked your idea to put in garden tubs. I think it makes the space feel more welcoming. Nice job!

    • April 28, 2018 by Sydney.Medford

      Yes, I have seen your project! (Sorry I haven’t commented yet!) I think your project is a very innovative solution to homelessness in that you are taking advantage of space that is not used 100% of the time. It’s great to see that many people chose to address homelessness in their projects because it is such a prevalent issue that has not been widely addressed.

  4. April 27, 2018 by Cara.Pryor

    Sydney, I’m so impressed with your thoughtful approach to serving the unsheltered population of our city. I remember your research paper last year that explored art deco architecture. It’s inspiring to see the evolution of your interest in this discipline. Bravo!

  5. April 27, 2018 by Karen Bradley

    These are really well thought through, Sydney! Two things I think would make them appealing to users. First, innovative paint jobs can transform a neutral boring surface into something gorgeous–I think, for example, about the murals along warehouses on Mandela Parkway near the transitional housing center you visited–or the warehouses on Third St. X MLK to the Southwest. Secondly, people would love to hang out in front of their tiny homes, so small decks, a step at the door, chairs would enhance the sense of community. Great job! Beautiful drawings!

    • April 28, 2018 by Sydney.Medford

      Thanks for the feedback! I have had similar feedback about putting murals on the shelters. I think it would be a great chance for local artists to paint a shelter. This would not only make the site more appealing, but also give the artists a chance to experiment and showcase their art.

  6. April 29, 2018 by Nicole.Sanders

    Hey Sydney! I really enjoyed your project. I’m so impressed by your solution, and how well you described it and the pictures you provided. I really like that you also included the polls, Google form, and a TED talk. It made it really interesting and balanced out your project so that there was a good mix of images and words.

    • May 01, 2018 by Sydney.Medford

      Thanks Nicole!

  7. May 01, 2018 by David M Enelow

    Sydney, your project is very well conceived. My one question concerns the idea of housing two people in one dwelling. It may be cost effective, but will these people get along in such a small space? Compatibility could be a problem unless assignments are carefully done.

    • May 01, 2018 by Sydney.Medford

      Thank you for viewing my project! Pairing people who do not know each other could definitely be a problem. However, from an interview with a city official, I learned that most of the people sharing a shelter are friends.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.