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Residents rise from homelessness to land jobs at company building Petaluma’s tiny home village

For the past six years, Sonoma resident Maria Colin has been on and off the streets after a divorce left her without a home and separated from her family. She was employed at Ross Dress for Less off of Stony Point Road in Santa Rosa, but many nights slept near the parking lot just so she could make it to work on time.

“Homelessness is not fun,” said Colin, 40, in a Friday afternoon interview. “You don’t know where you can put your head down, where you can be safe, where you’re going to eat.”

But Colin’s life changed a year ago, when she heard about Rohnert Park-based “tiny home” construction company Quickhaven. Inspired by Quickhaven’s mission to curb homelessness, Colin walked into the Commerce Boulevard office and asked for a job.

Now in her role as a shop lead, Colin leads a team of six employees, including four who have experienced homelessness, to build the transitional, tiny-home shelters now being installed at the People’s Village in Petaluma.

“I haven’t worked for people that actually inspired me to want to do something better in a long time,” Colin said. “It’s like coming home when you come to work.”

Quickhaven founder and CEO Dan Bodner was an IT specialist in Oakland, and was moved to change direction in his career about four years ago after noticing a growing number of encampments during his daily commute to work.

“It just made me think ‘isn’t there anybody doing anything to help? What’s going on?” Bodner said. “It seemed to me some kind of housing solution was needed here.”

So Bodner began experimenting with materials and designs for such housing solutions, and spent about a year doing so before piecing together the final prototype from his garage. Finally, he got architect Tim Craig, now QuickHaven’s COO, on board to fully kick off the start of the company, first based out of Craig’s sister and brother-in-law’s barn in Sonoma before headquartering from their current warehouse in Rohnert Park.

Last week at Quickhaven headquarters in central Rohnert Park, the shrill cry of electric saws and the whine of drills filled the warehouse. Throughout the space, stacks of insulated panels, metal frames and other raw materials sourced from California’s Central Valley awaited construction, after which the units would be loaded onto trucks via forklift and hauled to the site along Hopper Street in Petaluma.

In late September, Quickhaven partnered with the city of Petaluma for $338,000 to build 25 interim housing units near the COTS Mary Isaak Center, the city’s largest homeless shelter. The goal was to have the community, dubbed the People’s Village, completed by December or January, but coronavirus-related delays set construction back by more than two months.

Now, more than a dozen of the tiny homes have been set up and furnished, as Quickhaven employees push to construct the last batch before move-in begins later this month.

Bodner said while his design is one of a kind, the people on his team are what make the impact substantial.

Four of Quickhaven’s six employees have faced homelessness at some point in their lives, and now they’re helping get others off the street.

“Our process and the people we hire, what we make and who that product serves, it’s like one big picture,” Bodner said.

Bodner said in Petaluma, COTS assisted in the recruitment process and referred interviewees who wished to be employed. That’s how Bodner met one of his newest employees, Shane, who has since “graduated” from the Mary Isaak Center.

Shane, originally from Lake County, said he was homeless in Santa Rosa for five years.

“(I was) in and out of jail, on the streets there, just running into trouble,” Shane said. “Then I ended up going to Mary Isaak’s and that’s how I found the job. And things have gone way better from there.”

Shane, 28, said he is now living with his grandmother in Santa Rosa.

“It’s been great. Good people. Good hours, good pay,” Shane said, adding that Quickhaven helped him get a Clipper card so he can have easy access to the SMART train. “I really hope this company keeps going and takes off. There’s such a high demand for these shelters, and being on the streets for five years, there’s been a lot of times where I could have used one of these.”

Each of Quickhaven’s housing units are not only equipped with insulation, but residents will also have full access to power through electrical outlets. Putting all the electrical components together is Sonoma resident Joel Jarvis, who has also faced homelessness. Although he doesn’t have formal electrical training, Jarvis said he learned how to put circuits together while helping his dad renovate his house.

“I was able to make a 180 on my life, start saving up money, actually get a vehicle and participate in society,” Jarvis said in regards to how the impact that came with employment at Quickhaven.

Jarvis, who lost his sister to suicide last October, added that the construction company provided an incomparable support system in his grief.

“After my sister died, it’s the cushion that kept me from completely collapsing,” he said.

Amelia Parreira is a staff writer for the Argus-Courier. She can be reached at amelia.parreira@arguscourier.com or 707-521-5208.

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