During the recent 4th street parade, “all-around artist” Chris Wyatt Scott followed burners on stilts, floats and on motorized recliners, pushing a shopping cart filled with tools. His goal was to build a teeny house, which he completed by 7pm in an enclosure right by Reno’s main homeless shelter. He used discarded wood he found in the area, including a pile of redwood dumped in a parking lot behind a strip club, and wheels and screws found at the Generator maker space.
Chris has his own local business called “Corner Craft”. “I can build anything,” he said in between jobs and moving his trusted white van on a recent windswept Spring day in downtown Reno when he had more time to talk. “I’ve built standard houses, down to business card holders. Everything I do I try to push the envelope of my creativity and influence at the time.” A Rochester, NY, native, who has lived in North Carolina, Florida, southern California and Japan, Chris moved to Reno four years ago after spending a decade in Italy, working as a musician who also decorated storefronts.
Chris's first project in Reno was to build a tiny house. “I’ve researched every single aspect of a tiny house from what you start out with as a base to all the systems, electronical systems, solar, heating. I got all my knowledge base on all these details from that one initial project here,” he said.
A Love of 4th street
Chris used to live on 4th street, so taking part in last month’s community event was particularly important for him. “I love 4th street. I love what it gives to Reno. It’s definitely iconic. My goal was to bring attention to the people already living there, not too say ‘look there’s this horrible thing going on’, but more to say ‘no there’s this thing going on and it’s going on already’ and that should be included in any outsider’s approach to 4th street… Outsiders meaning from a different neighborhood, or a different city.”
Different Perceptions of Homelessness
Chris believes more people should focus on helping the homeless and not on themselves when thinking of homelessness. “People talk about the homeless problem but I don’t like that because it implies it’s a problem for the city, or it’s a problem for the people witnessing it," he explained. "No, it’s a problem for the people who are living like that, not for everyone else. (The event) was an opportunity for everyone to show how much better things could be done. There’s always room for improvement.”
So what exactly did you go for in your own day of on the spot building?
“I didn’t make any drawings beforehand. I kind of just eyeballed the wood and gave an estimate in my head of what I thought it was going to look like. I decided to make a teeny house which was semi-mobile and also a summertime house. It’s not made to keep you super warm but it’s a lot warmer than sleeping on the ground."
Did You Have Any Interesting Interactions With the Community While You Were Building?
“A couple of people who work at the homeless shelter came over and they were very nice and interested and sort of encouraging. I would like to talk with them again and see if they want to brainstorm on further steps.”
Chris has also been taking pictures of the homeless who have been pushed down the river trail beyond the border with Sparks, adding captions with “RE” in red to “NO CAMPING”, which has been enforced on the Reno side.
Camping Should Be Allowed
“Pushing people away isn’t going to do anything. These people exist. If you just make a law that says it’s illegal for them to camp, you’re not changing anything. They’re still going to exist. They’re going to have to live and sleep and have their waking hours somewhere. There’s not enough space at the shelter for these people and there’s some people that wouldn’t even stay in the shelter if they could. I don’t think laws and criminalization is the way to approach it. It’s probably going to make it worse. There should be a way to integrate and help.”
Were You Pleased With the Result?
“Yes, very much. It doesn’t look like a shack. It’s just got a nice line to it. Things like this they don’t have to be like barracks or bunks or cubicles or capsules. They can be interesting and different and push the limits of material.”
The Finished House and Thinking Beyond
"I also put a small box on the back that locks so someone can lock up something in there. With people in transition, they don’t usually have a place to securely keep their things. That is something that’s important and that needs to be part of the plan in any kind of shelter or transitional housing, a secure place to leave stuff locked.”
The Dream: How can an artist and builder like yourself help the homeless in the longer term, in addition to offering possibilities and raising awareness?
“The dream would be to jump forward a few steps all at once. This city is growing fast. There are developers coming in, buying huge plots of land. I think there’s room to make even a tiny house village, a tiny house community or a lot that allows camping that makes it positive. Give people a place and give them the opportunity to learn how to build these things for themselves, to help other people build them. Quit pushing them to the outskirts. Quit pushing them to the edges, to the parts that are hidden. I’m looking to expand on this idea and find a space where the city will allow something to grow and engulf what people call a problem and turn it into something else.”
Chris Wyatt Scott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: Parts of this interview were trimmed and rearranged.