A homeless man pan handles next to a RV vehicle parked on an overpass of the CA-101 freeway in the E...
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Ingenious Homeless Shelters Made from Repurposed Materials


Homelessness is a complex and important issue that is still ignored in many urban areas. Chilly temperatures, health and safety concerns, and other devastating problems plague homeless populations, leaving them with little dignity. There are some designers who hope to help combat the problems in some small way by offering free, flexible, and yes, even stylish, shelters for people who require transitional living spaces. These ingenious designs are inspiring discussions about how city officials can better meet the needs of the homeless and restore pride to the disadvantaged.

Gregory Kloehn’s miniature houses make the streets of Oakland, California a rainbow of colors, built from discarded materials (mostly items that have been illegally dumped). The tiny homes have surprising details, such as skylights, insulated walls made from pizza delivery bags, mirrors, and more. Due to the low building costs, Kloehn donates the houses on wheels to homeless people in the area.

Artist Michael Rakowitz recycles plastic bags for his urban shelter, nicknamed paraSITE. The inflatable structure uses warm air from HVAC systems attached to surrounding buildings in order to keep shelter residents warm. They cost fewer than five dollars to create. Rakowitz estimates he’s built around 60 shelters in various cities across the United States.

Tina Hovsepian designed a foldable, portable emergency housing shelter that was inspired by origami designs. Cardborigami is made from recycled cardboard and folds out into a tent-like structure that is big enough for two people to sleep in. She has tested her design on Skid Row in Los Angeles and hopes to create a waterproof, fire-retardant version that could be distributed through the city’s non-profit organization Everyone Deserves a Roof.

Italian architecture and design firm Zo-Loft created WheelLY, a mobile and sustainable structure for urban space. The rolling aluminum frame contains two tents made from recycled materials. When not being used as a shelter, WheelLY acts as a rolling cart and can store up to 250 pounds of personal items.

The Home Dome, created by 12-year-old designer Max Wallack as part of a Design Squad Trash to Treasure competition, reuses those terrible packing peanuts and discarded plastic bags to create an insulated shelter for those in need.

Designers Barry Sheehan and Gregor Timlin created the Shelter Cart, which uses recycling as the basis for its design. Armed with the knowledge that many homeless people in urban areas collect discarded bottles and cans from the streets in order to make money from recycling plants, the duo wanted to build a structure that would allow people to collect items, but also function as a place of rest.

Allen Samuels, a professor at the University of Michigan, invented a temporary hut made from lightweight, biodegradable materials called the U-M Emergency Shelter. It even has wheels, which makes it portable. The design was inspired by the stackable, plastic beds often used in prisons.

Can Koseoglu’s Box Tent is exactly what it sounds like: a smart and recyclable corrugated cardboard and polyester tent structure that is foldable and portable for instant relief.

Tiny Yellow House host Derek Diedricksen created a micro structure/sleeper cabin/homeless shelter out of repurposed wood and other recyclable materials. Inside, residents can stretch their legs and shelve their belongings, but the miniature hut also has charming decorative details such as a stained glass window and a birdhouse.

Fresno architect Art Dyson collaborated with California State University and designed homeless shelters made from scrap lumber, can lids, and other recyclable materials. The small houses include a bath and cooking area for convenience and comfort — something almost unheard of for temporary shelters.