Seven Innovative Shelter Solutions To Help The Homeless

From revamped subway cars to a bed in a backpack, architects and designers show how the homeless can keep the elements at bay.

By Jeff Vasishta April 3, 2017
Image via Pinterest

We’ve all seen them. Homeless people sleeping on subway trains. Commuters usually give them a wide berth. Sometimes the police move them on. Now, though, the homeless may be able to legitimately catch some zzz’s on underground train carriages without fear of interruption or public scorn.

Arthur Cotton Moore, a well-known Washington D.C. architect, was alarmed to discover that hundreds of old subway cars were destined for the scrap heap. Being a creative and civic-minded  man, he thought these sturdy old carriages to become useful once again—as tiny homes for the homeless.

“I thought it was just a terrible waste―sending all these cars to the junkyard,” Moore, 81, told The Huffington Post.

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Many of the cars are always making their last journey to the junkyard in Baltimore. But it’s lengthy process which could take years, according to The Washington Post. Moore wants save 86 of the carriages, which he says were built to withstand harsh weather and would need minimal cost in retro fitting. The most obvious installations would be pre-fab kitchens ($2700) and bathrooms ($700). The 560-square-foot, one-bedroom “apartment” could be moved to the same location, Moore says, to form a community of sorts.

“That’s not a bad one-bedroom,” he said. “Small, but still something livable, compared to where they’re living now: under the bridges.”

Metro spokesperson Dan Stessel told the Washington Post: “Metro will consider any viable proposal for other uses of the cars, provided that it is budget neutral to Metro and complies with all applicable laws, regulations, etc.”

According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, there were 8,350 homeless people in Washington DC last year. That marked a 14.4 percent increase from 2015.

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Many other cities too are gripped in a homeless epidemic. It has inspired scores of innovative inventions to either keep people off the streets or provide them with sturdier shelter than a cardboard box and a dirty sleeping bag. Among the many ideas being proposed or actually manufactured are the following:

The Hotepel

This would require a serious investment. It gives the homeless their own skyscraper. It includes compact dwelling units as well as shared amenities like laundry, storage, showers and kitchen facilities.

Mobile Homeless Shelter by Paul Elkin

This is on the other end of the spectrum. It’s basically a watertight box on wheels which even has a mini toilet and kitchen.

WheelLY Recycled Homeless Shelter by Zo-Loft Architecture & Design

Basically, a tent shoved into a rolling aluminum frame. Very temporary but it will keep the wind out at night. Plus, the rolling design enables it to hold up to 250 pounds of personal items, and the push-handle also functions as a brake.

Sleepbox by Arch Group

You’ve got to love the look and modern design of this mini bed/home which was designed initially for people to take naps at airports with the unit being rented fifteen minutes and a few hours and new sheets provided for each new renter. It’s easy to see how this could be adapted for homeless.

Pump And Jump

It sounds like a kids backyard bouncy castle but this innovative idea allows a homeless person to carry their valuables not in a garbage bag but a cart with wheels and handle, which can also be used as a backpack. At night, the handle doubles as a pump to inflate a tent and thus provide shelter and keep the elements out. Designers Jeong-Yun Heo, Seong-Ho Kim and Chung Lee explained to, where this design and many more are showcased, “It’s a cart for a homeless who collect recycled things. We are have two concepts for the cart. First is pumping Air, second is fixing the box on the cart. A Homeless can rest in the shelter and store collections such as bottles, sheets of paper, cardboards, etc.”


Sounds like something you’d buy at an Apple store but it is in fact, the brainchild of Timothy Payne, CEO of Forest YMCA in London. mYpads imports shipping containers from China and converts them into studio apartments. Highly affordable compared to the price of London rental, the quick build shelter comes complete with a shower, toilet, sink, bed, fridge, microwave, TV, clothing storage and heating. What’s not to like?

Jeff Vasishta



Jeff is a writer, husband and father but not necessarily in that order. As a music journalist he counts Prince, Beyonce and Quincy Jones amongst those he’s interviewed. He's also owned and flipped homes in Brooklyn, NJ, CT and PA.
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