Pop-up mini-shelter for homeless people

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The EDAR is like a miniature pop-up camper designed as a portable shelter for homeless people. Hollywood movie producer Peter Samuelson (Revenge of the Nerds) came up with the idea and sponsored a prototype contest at the Art Center College of Design. Eric Lindeman and Jason Zasa won with a shopping cart-inspired version. Now, the non-profit EDAR Foundation is starting to distribute the shelters in the Los Angeles area and looking for donations to manufacture more of them. From the Los Angeles Times:
With a donation from former EBay President Jeff Skoll, he took the design to Precision Wire Products, a manufacturer of shopping carts in Commerce. Precision produced a succession of prototypes, at least nine, to address critiques of the device: too big, too small, too flimsy, not readily collapsible. The units have been thrown down flights of stairs (they're sturdy) and left in the rain (they don't leak).

Three months ago, Samuelson decided to distribute 60 EDARs for testing. With the help of churches, missions and shelters, he and his assistants identified chronically homeless people who could benefit from an EDAR in the short term and might be willing to develop a lasting relationship with service providers...

Does the EDAR enable homelessness by making it more bearable? No, he insists.

"Why is the EDAR not regressive?" he said. "Because it is not nearly as good as a shelter bed. There's no pretense it's as good as permanent or temporary brick-and-mortar housing." But it is, he says, "infinitely better than a damp cardboard box."
"Upgrading from a cardboard box for the homeless"


  1. In some other posts here, I saw people talking about the broken window fallacy, as well as currency being worthless paper. So, I came to this thread looking for people complaining about this being bad for homeless people because they get something for nothing, or homeless people doing it to themselves…so far, I’m leaving disappointed.

  2. This rings a bell for me. I vaguely remember a similar concept being developed here in San Francisco in conjunction with an exhibit at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

    I believe the problem they ran into was that the carts/shelters had significant value to the members of the homeless population they distributed them to. & the shelters became the source of scuffles.

    Additionally, it probably didn’t help that San Francisco had/has a policy of periodically confiscating the carts and possessions of the homeless.

  3. In Boston beds are hard to come by in the winter and are given out by a lottery system. Other than that, most of the homeless prefer to sleep outside because they can drink alcohol and do drugs as they please unlike inside a shelter. (I’m not saying all homeless are hopeless addicts…just most of ’em).

  4. Tak, why is it called “parasite”? I mean, I get the concatenated pun thing they are doing, but it’s rather an insult to the people the shelter would supposedly house. It’s a pretty heavy name, but I saw no explanation of the name.

  5. So we’ve reinvented the tent for homeless people? Why not take the resources used to develop and produce this over-specialized thing and buy ten times as many tents?

    Tents are man-portable. The more expensive ones can survive in extreme environments like Mount Everest. Basic tents should be more than enough for the mild climate of LA.

    No matter what portable shelter a homeless person has, the real problem is that they probably don’t have anywhere to pitch it.

  6. “parasite” is the designer’s term from the “parasite on waste heat” from high rise HVAC vents at street level. Parasite is a neutral engineering term in that context.

  7. This concept was first(to my knowledge) put forth over a decade ago in a book called ‘Public Therapy Buses’ from ten speed press. It was a collection of near future innovations and inventions. More recently in DC, a homeless man cycled into Farragut park towing a homemade trailer of similar utility as the one above, but with storage compartments and a smaller trailer for his dog. Congratulations to Mr. Samuelson for making this a production reality.

  8. “The cost of building or refurbishing a traditional shelter is approximately $100,000 per bed created.” –from edar.org

    So my four bedroom Cape Cod should be worth somewhere between half a million and a million dollars…

    I agree with #10 that there won’t be universal agreement among the homeless that this is not as good as a shelter bed.

  9. Lots of homeless people aren’t comfortable staying in shelters, because shelters are often terrible places to be. You’re put in close quarters with a lot of other people, and while most are perfectly acceptable people, there are bound to be some who are smelly, loud, insane, thieves, contagious, etc. In addition, the staff of many shelters are indistinguishable from prison guards, exerting arbitrary authority and treating people like animals.

    After dealing with shelters for a little while, it’s no surprise that people end up sleeping outside, where at least they have some semblance of freedom, independence and self-respect. However sleeping outside is dangerous, especially in regions where it gets cold. In northern US cities, people freeze to death every year, huddled outside warm empty buildings.

    This idea seems like penny ante compared to the increasingly popular and effective strategy of providing actual transitional housing instead of shelter. But if it can save the lives of people who (quite justifiably) reject sleeping in a shelter, it’s probably worthwhile.

  10. I think they should make them a more highly visible color,too. Maybe a bright neon color? Then it would also be extra effective in making the homelessness visible. I saw somewhere a while back where a group gave homeless people some sort of brightly colored umbrella/tent type things city wide and the effect was astonishing. It made the city and it’s citizens really see visually how bad the homeless problem was. People without homes visually blend in with the hustle and bustle of urban life and become a part of the cityscape. Super visible tents would not only shelter them from the elements,but could also draw needed attention to their plight and help them get the aid they really need on the scale they really need.

  11. what made traditional nomad tent living work?

    If a city gives these wheeled shelters to the homeless, they have to also give them designated sites scattered around the city to set up in. Sites with showers, toilets, covered cooking areas, some government presence and security.

  12. I was so happy to see this in the LA Times online this morning. I felt really guilty for being so glib in dismissing this paper I’ve known and loved my entire life. Socially relevant articles like this knock the socks off the uppercrusty lifestyles nonsense you see so much of in the NYTimes.

    I don’t want the LA Times to die! You want to talk about an indispensible teaching tool? The newspaper is a freakin godsend in the classroom. A very cheap, plentiful source of information, available in many places where classrooms full of laptops may not be. I used the San Jose Mercury News every day in my classroom.

    Sitting down to read the paper is one of these quintessentially democratic experiences that shouldn’t be so blithely thrown in the dustbin of time.

    I say, long live the LA Times, the Mercury News, and innumerable others across the country that provide relevant and meaningful news to the broadest demographics possible. I mean, I guess there is TV, but seriously, the “newspaper” really shouldn’t have to die now, should it?

  13. Perception is Reality. Or is it situational? A person sleeping in a plastic “tube tent”. In a wilderness area it’s “ultra light shelter” In the urban wilderness it’s considered somehow different. A person with a backpack holding that same tube tent+sleeping bag. Are they a camper or a bum? The presence or lack of a fixed “home” somehow magically defines leisure class from lower class? Rethinking also what demarcates those lacking a home from economics Vs those who choose to not have a “home” I have always suspected that some “homeless” are quite unwilling to be forced into conformity. From that thought comes a grimly sobering alternate reality. How many Americans at this very moment are homeless because we ignored a blatant economic rape?

    These shelters are lovely in theory. The combination of “Guilt Alms” and perpetuating a cycle play nicely into changing nothing. Changing building codes to allow single person Micro Houses for example might be a better start. Here’s why. A flimsy portashelter depreciates any investment in it very quickly. Make single person dwellings in hospitable climates. Which can uplift that unwillingly homeless single person into a modestly but dignified housed person. With incentives to eventually move up in the world if they choose to. And when they move out someone else moves in. The rest is details.

  14. The problem with this Redstarr is that the Homeless in general don’t want to attract attention to themselves, unless its for some sort of temporary politcal protest. Day in and day out, the homeless are just trying to get by like the rest of us. Putting them in international yellow jumpsuits would certainly highlight the problem, but it would also make them a target.

  15. Why are there not Humane Euthanasia Centers established? Surely all agree these redundant persons suffer unduly and all inexorably end the same way. It is our Christian Duty to minimize their suffering. Charity demands it. We must face up to the task before us and reach out to the homeless in their hour of need. A warm place, cheerful welcoming faces and a good steaming bowl of the last stew they’ll ever need.

  16. RE: The last bowl of stew comment. Satire as such risks the humor being lost. Or are we being too subtle? Thus, proposing further Swiftian logic to make my point. Those bowls of stew being made from those who had a last bowl of stew. We have to Make Room!

  17. Krzysztof Wodiczko «Homeless Vehicles», that’s the best on this particular subject so far, I’d say. No link but worth the effort looking it up.

  18. #20: I think your idea is a good one as long as a more neutral color (such as the brown pictured) is also available to people receiving the shelters. Every homeless person is an individual, and while some homeless people might be excited about the opportunity to participate in a program that draws attention to their situation, others might simply want to sleep in as private a way as is possible for them.

  19. @ #7)
    “Why not take the resources used to develop and produce this over-specialized thing and buy ten times as many tents?”

    I agree completely.

    While I appreciate the goodwill behind this project, this idea is neither new nor particularly well-executed. While this iteration is certainly the most well-designed and practical I’ve seen, it’s still too expensive to serve as a real solution, and as others have pointed out these people would still need bathrooms, showers, designated areas where they could use them, etc.

  20. The standard homeless tent in Paris is a model currently sold in outdoor shops for about $50. It folds up and zips (poles and all) into a one meter diameter disk. Weighs about 5 lb.
    A lot of people prefer their own tent to a communal shelter. There’s no place like home.
    They are found all over the city – more or less tolerated. Same in many other parts of France I’ve seen.
    Quick Google image search (SDF tente Paris) gives

  21. expense? What is the cost of two police constables time to collect some ragged vagabond from the public park, give the rascal a sound drubbing and clap him in the local gaol? To feed and house the rapscallion tramp on the public’s purse and then take up the precious time of the local magistrate when there is not even a public work-house to send him to? Nay good sir, speak not of the expense when this travesty of fiscal outrage is perpetrated upon us all! Time to live up to the spirit and letter of the War on Poverty! We must rise up in arms against this threat and protect our homes, hearths and virtue of our ladies! Give these penniless brutes a whiff of the grape and drive them back into the suburbs whence they came! (good show wot? floggings all around behind the local later!)

  22. Does the EDAR enable homelessness by making it more bearable? No, he insists.

    See, that question just annoys the crap out of me. What’s wrong with making someone’s crappy life bearable? Is it an ideal solution? No. But making someone’s life hurt less is a meritorious act, and the idea that if you can’t solve the whole problem you shouldn’t do anything to help just ticks me off.

  23. Speaking as an ultralight backpacker, the ideal outdoor shelter is a simple tarp set up with two or four poles or sticks and a few guy lines as described by ultralight innovator Ray Jardine on his website http://www.rayjardine.com/ray-way/Tarp-Kit/pitch/index.htm

    Mine is made of silnylon and mosquito netting, but a cheap plastic sheet or nylon tarp is as effective, just not as lightweight.

    That shelter in the image shown is too closed, just like the flawed design that is the modern tent, and in such a shelter condensation will form during the night, soaking the bedding, which is a chronic condition for someone sleeping out night after night. Under a tarp your personal water vapor can escape.

    Of course a tarp user would require sufficient insulation for the temperatures he might expect to encounter preferably in the form of a synthetic fill sleeping bag.

  24. Some guy won a design contest with this idea twenty years ago. I printed a pic and the text, then made up a phony bit about how there was a long waiting list in San Francisco. I now see it was more prophecy than comedy.

    As our nation crumbles around us we could do worse than pursue further research and development on such dwellings. A whole lot of restrictive lace curtain laws regarding how people live and survive are going to be abandoned as more and more Americans enter the brave new Third World.

  25. We have a terminology problem. “Homelessness” isn’t the problem. Untreated mental illness with co-occuring substance abuse is the problem.

    When someone who is neither psychotic nor substance-abusing falls on hard times and loses their home, studies have shown that the average time that they will remain homeless is one (1) day.

    Sure, buy some tents as a stopgap. But realize that it is a stopgap, and no substitute for providing mental health care to those who need it. And also realize that those need inpatient mental health care the most are unlikely to voluntarily seek treatment.

  26. governments “saving money” by de-institutionalizing the mentally ill (“throwing them into the street”) also threw them into the hands of the bottom-end drug dealers. They are the hopeless homeless.

  27. #38 has it right. These portable shelters are based on a conception of the homeless as rebels against society, to be supported in their lifestyle choice.

    The vast majority of homeless persons are so because of a mental health issue, to include substance abuse.

    Organizations distributing shelters like this are merely introducing a new commodity to this very basic level of the economy. It doesn’t hurt, but it doesn’t help, either.

    #36 makes a good point, as well. If we can’t afford to address the root problem, there are better ways to make the streets survivable. While these portable shelters are a charming design problem for well-meaning industrial designers, tarps, fleece blankets, waterproof stuff sacks, and possibly mosquito nets would be more effective in every respect.

  28. I’m surprised how much people here know about this subject. You’d think people posting on an Internet chat forum wouldn’t spend a lot of their time amongst the homeless! In fact, you’d think the lifestyles would be so far apart that each would appear insane from the others’ point of view.

    Prolly mucked up the grammar there.

  29. “Homelessness” isn’t the problem. Untreated mental illness with co-occuring substance abuse is the problem.

    That’s going to change. The ranks of the homeless will grow to include people whose only disorder is homelessness.

    Think the Joads.

  30. @42: Actually, a lot of people are already on the street simply because they can’t afford not to be. It’s been that way for decades now.

    I think there are two reasons people assume the homeless are all crazy or addicts:

    The charitable one is that the mentally ill and addicted folks are more visible – they’re the ones who pass out in the middle of the sidewalk or rant loudly in the subway. We tend not to notice poverty unless it really slaps us in the face, so the only impoverished people we see are those who act outrageously.

    The less charitable factor is that we have a need to believe that the homeless live the way they do because there’s something wrong with them. That we could never end up in their place because we’re fundamentally different from them.

    We need to believe this both to avoid having to contemplate ourselves living the horror that is homelessness, and also as a rationale to explain why we’re not doing more to help them.

  31. Maybe the new wave will just build their own towns. A lot of them actually know they have rights and aren’t going to accept being broke as proof of sub-humanity.

  32. #38 is spot on. I highly recommend the cynics among you (most, from my rough tally) read “The Soloist” by Steve Lopez from the LA Times, soon to be a movie. It’s a great book and a fascinating look into the psychology of homeless.

    In short, you can give people mansions in Bel Air, but if they’re mentally ill, they won’t want them. Most of the people who sleep on the streets want it that way, and they’re too sick to understand otherwise. It’s not a lack of shelter, it’s a lack of effective comprehensive mental health care.


  33. “”Homelessness” isn’t the problem. Untreated mental illness with co-occurring substance abuse is the problem.”

    Or even treated mental illness, without substance abuse. But the substance abuse doesn’t help.

    My nephew isn’t exactly homeless, but might as well be. His fiduciary puts him in one cheap apartment after another, which he trashes or gets kicked out of. His bipolar disorder and substance abuse is not pretty. He refuses to live in assisted living or have a guardian appointed, and there’s no family near him that can properly supervise him. Even when I’m there it doesn’t matter. He blew me off and went and spent his weekly check on drugs last time I was there, telling me he was a “big boy”.

    What can you do. Sigh.

  34. I wonder where the first Big Squat will happen? Plenty of empty repo-ed houses. Small towns should welcome them if they clean them up and keep order. Better than entire neighborhoods rotting into no-go zones and tax sponges. Squatters might not pay taxes,but if they are allowed to make community, they won’t be a burden either.

  35. you’se guys are going to need a lot of these pretty soon… loads of forclosures to come with all the job losses…

  36. you won’t get a “Big Squat”… no doubt, Haliburton and Blackwater have already sewn up the contract to police the repo’d properties and will use lethal force to keep them empty for the banks…

  37. I’ve often wondered why charitable institutions around here don’t routinely hand out survival blankets to the homeless population who don’t come to shelters. They’re damn cheap*, foldable to tinyness and so portable, and could well save lives on the coldest nights.

    * like, $1.49

  38. #24, You may be right, the visibility might make some of them more of target for violence, abuse, theft of what little they have, etc. I hadn’t thought of it from the need to be less visible angle.

    #55 Interesting idea. I bet there’s a lot of organizations that don’t even know about those blankets and/or where to get them. I didn’t know there was such a thing till you mentioned it and I googled it. Those could be a really helpful thing that would be affordable.

  39. @55
    ever tried to sleep in crackling aluminum foil? Also, they turn into tatters in a few days. They are meant for a pinch, not a camp out.

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