Archive for the ‘ventura’ Tag

The River Haven Community

mike-4750Written by Lee Schneider, director of the film SHELTER.

I didn’t know you could play a Celine Dion CD off a car battery. But Mike Casper has figured out a way to do it. He’s one of twenty or so residents of River Haven, a transitional encampment in Ventura County, California.  River Haven has been around for four years, but recently Mike was among those who helped radically change it.

At the end of September, several hundred volunteers came to River Haven for a day, erected 19 pre-fabricated U-Dome residences from World Shelters, then had some pizza for lunch and moved on. Of course, the job wasn’t over. Some people had to come back to rebuild the platforms on which the dome homes rested. Others brought flowers and resealed doors and caulked leaks. The U-Domes experience shows that you can get pretty close to building a village in a day, but it takes a longer commitment to make the village work for the residents.

mike-4743Mike Casper has seen the “old” River Haven when it was just a tent city, a sea of mud and leaky canvas, and he helped put up the new River Haven, which looks something like a space village, particularly at night, when the interiors of the domes are lighted from within. Mike has refurbished a couple of propane grills for cooking, fired up the Honda generator to put a charge on the 12-volt car batteries that power his and other residents’ DVD/CD players, and has even found some time for filing. That’s right, filing.  “Somebody donated these filing cabinets. I’ve been putting our stuff in them,” he said. The idea amuses him. But he likes to keep busy.

Before he lost his house, Mike told me, he was a building contractor with a Beverly Hills clientele. Working with his hands comes naturally to him.

He’s put his skills to work at River Haven, contributing to the community.  Corliss Porter, the Clinical Director at Turning Point Foundation, was the project coordinator on the one-day U-Dome installation, and she’s a key player in the ongoing administration of River Haven. She spent two rainy nights in a River Haven dome and found it pretty comfortable. “One little kerosene lantern warmed the place up even with wind,” she said. But she’s also spent more than two decades managing psychosocial rehabilitation services. The question that’s occupied her all those years is this: “How do you create a sane community to support personal growth?”

Personal growth comes, she’s found, when external structures are in place. “If the external structure is clear and fair, above all fair, that affects how people start working on their internal chaos.”

reportcards-4780A resident has found that if you hang up a few mementos, like your old grade school report cards, a dome can  feel like home.

Put any of us out on the street, Corliss explained, and in two weeks or less our thinking becomes minute-to-minute. How do I get warm? Where do I go to the bathroom? Where’s my next meal coming from? “People on the street have a basic form of PTSD. [Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder]. Some of them more, some of them less.”

In that situation, you don’t make decisions coming from your best emotional state. You can’t focus on the problem – it simply overwhelms you. But with some structure and a sense of community such as River Haven provides, you have a shot at staying focused, at transitioning, at beginning to heal.

Last year at River Haven, they started doing peer mediation training for residents. “It altered the community,” Corliss said. “It shifted the way they attended to the problems and the community came along with it.”

River Haven residents pay $250 monthly rent. They have to stay clean and sober, participate in community meetings, and keep looking for work. Finding work – tough in this economic climate. “A lot of people are out of work these days,” Mike Casper told me. He’s keeping busy. There’s still a lot to do at River Haven, now that the new refrigerator that runs on propane has been donated.

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Lee Schneider is the founder of DocuCinema, a media production company based in Los Angeles.  Partnered with Adventure Picures, the company is producing the movie SHELTER.

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River Haven and U-Domes

Written by Lee Schneider

Is it possible to construct a village of new homes in a day, providing much needed housing for the homeless in Ventura County, California?  The answer is yes if you have a few hundred volunteers, two battalions of Navy Sea-Bees,  an innovative design for geodesic domes and some vision.

buckyHandThe innovative dome design comes from an American original named R. Buckminster Fuller.  The vision comes from Bruce LeBel of World Shelters and Clyde Reynolds of the Turning Point Foundation.  Clyde, the foundation’s executive director, heads up a program serving more than 500 clients in Ventura County each year through its shelter rehabilitation programs. Clyde hired Bruce’s company, World Shelters, to do something amazing: create housing for the homeless in just one day. Bruce, once a student of Buckminster Fuller, was ready for the challenge.  Why?  Not only did Buckminster Fuller advance the concept of a dome as a multi-use building, but Fuller also believed in a passionate and committed form of architecture that would help citizens of Earth survive and prosper.  He saw his life as an experiment into “what, if anything,” an individual could do “on behalf of all humanity.”

“For the first time in history it is now possible to take care of everybody at a higher standard of living than any have ever known.  Only ten years ago the ‘more with less’ technology reached the point where this could be done. All humanity now has the option to become enduringly successful.”
– R. Buckminster Fuller, 1980

Bucky, as he was known, inspired Bruce LeBel to use the dome design to provide emergency housing all over the world.  We’re making a film about pre-fab architecture for the very poor and the very rich called SHELTER.  One of Bruce’s projects we’re following happened over the weekend, at an encampment for the homeless called River Haven, in Ventura.  Winter is coming, and that means heavy rains and some heavy weather.  The homeless people who lived here were camped in tents that were showing their age over the four years this settlement has been in existence. Domes would provide warmth, strength, and security.

The domes at River Haven, called U-Domes, are the result of years of research at World Shelters. Bruce was once an engineer at The North Face, the outdoor equipment company whose tents utilized Fuller’s principle of tensegrity.  Tensegrity is a synergy of materials achieved by a balance of tension and compression in their components.  U-Domes are designed to ship easily and go up fast.

buildingadomePutting one of World Shelter’s U-Domes together looks complicated – it’s something like wrestling with really big origami – but it can be done by volunteers with little or no training.   It’s one way you can get a village standing in a day. The domes that went up this weekend are strong, light and portable – built to withstand 80 mph winds and last for ten years.  Those who contributed to the project included members of two battalions of  Navy Sea-Bees, some of whom had just returned from deployment in Afghanistan. SHELTER_river-3831 They put down sixteen wooden pads on gravel that provide steady grounding and support for the domes.  Allegra Fuller Snyder, Buckminster Fuller’s daughter, stopped by to support the effort and fill us in on her father.  She gave us an interview connecting the vision of her dad with the applications Bruce has been seeking for his domes.  We hope Bucky Fuller will be the spiritual father of our film.

Shelter-4701Cheryl Deay of the United Way was heading up some of of the volunteers on site. She told us that 70% of the homeless population are working and struggling to get out of homelessness.  For the most part they keep a low profile.  “For every homeless person you see there are eight more that you don’t see.”  She explained that you may see the men on the street, but the women and children and families are hidden away.

SHELTER will follow this and some other projects Bruce has going and will also track pre-fab housing projects for the very rich.  We’ve completed interviews with Jennifer Siegal of the Office of Mobile Design and have met with two more pre-fab architecture powerhouses, Shigeru Ban and Dean Maltz, to speak with them about being in the film.

Shelter-domepano1

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This is the ongoing production blog of SHELTER.  The film examines everyone’s right to a roof over their head and focuses on pre-fab methods of building as advanced by such architects as Jennifer Siegal, Whitney Sander, Shigeru Ban and Dean Maltz, design innovators like Buckminster Fuller and activists like Bruce LeBel of World Shelters.  SHELTER is a production of DocuCinema and Adventure Pictures.  Its executive producers are Lee Schneider and Richard Neill.