Sonoma County's Ken Berman Art wins North Bay Maker Award for bike-towed homeless housing

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As wildfires continue to displace Northern California residents, and as society searches for ways to remove the stigma of homelessness, a variety of creative designs have emerged for 8-by-12 or larger mini-homes as temporary or long-term housing solutions.

Sebastopol architect, artist and patented inventor Ken Berman took this concept to the micro level with the creation of a 4 foot by 8 foot fully enclosed mobile shelter prototype he built that could be used by people of all socioeconomic levels. It features operable doors and windows so an occupant can appreciate the natural environment and gaze at the stars through a moon roof while protected from the elements.

“I was asked by a friend to develop a model for an art show and designed a sturdy single-person dwelling that could be easily transported. The concept utilizes the structural strength of the Roman arch in the shape of a turtle shell. It has a bicycle hitch attachment, interior lockable storage, carpeting, fold-out table, LED lighting, as well as future solar and battery-charging capabilities and USB ports for a cell phone or notebook.”

According to Berman, those who are homeless are tech savvy and have iPhones and other devices that help them keep in touch.

He called his first creation “Dorothy” from the Wizard of Oz, known for her famous quote, “There’s no place like home.”

Berman used some of his paintings as exterior panels on the turtle he says can also be used for camping, recreational activities and as a mobile office or studio. His art also adorns skateboards, wristwatches and even shoes.

“Dorothy has been well-received by children and adults alike when on display at the Paul Mahder Gallery in Healdsburg and at the Middletown Art Center in Middletown. I want to keep this idea out there as the first of what I hope will be a series of similar design solutions.”

In the future, the turtle could also come as an assemble-it-yourself kit. The prototype cost under $5,000, but Berman believes it could be made for half that with volume production, and could also be rented or leased for much less.

“We need new ways that help establishing pride in ownership and aid those who are homeless to connect with the rest of society. They don’t eat or sleep in traditional housing, so something like the turtle could be a transitional step.”

Ken Berman and his wife, Clare Monteschio, are both design professionals. Ken focuses on architecture and Claire on interiors (

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