During the day, the Housetrike looks like an ordinary cargo bike--the sort of thing someone might use to sell ice cream at a park or make deliveries. At night, it transforms into a tiny and secure bedroom, intended to relieve some of the stress of living on the street.
"If you’re homeless, the biggest problem is not so much the physical problem--that you have no roof--but the mental challenge," says Bas Sprakel, the Dutch artist who designed the bike. "You’re scared to sleep at night, you can’t secure your belongings, you’re stigmatized. I wanted to find a solution."
Unlike some other portable shelters, like the pop-up Cardborigami or this backpack that rolls out into a small tent, the Housetrike's sleeping compartment can be locked from the inside so someone feels safer and--in theory--can get a better night’s rest.
Though the space looks a little like a coffin, Sprakel says he doesn’t find it claustrophobic. "From the inside it’s small but it’s big enough to feel comfortable," he says. "Someone can sleep in a tent if they prefer. But they always know they have a secure place to sleep."
The cargo space also can be locked during the day. "Normally, homeless people can’t part from their stuff, because they become anxious that someone is going to steal it," says Sprakel. "With this, they can lock it and go to work or do whatever normal people do. They're mobile, they're free."
Someone with the bike is also less conspicuous than a person pushing a loaded shopping cart down the street. Folded up, the compartment has 18 cubic feet of space, enough room to carry clothes for different seasons, a mattress and bedding, and personal items like books or a laptop. But no one on the street can see what’s inside.
"You’re just a guy on a bike cruising around, and that’s it," says Sprakel. "If you’re walking with a trolley, whatever you do, you will be stigmatized. You’ll be seen as that guy."
The design is also intended to give someone independence from the shelter system. In the Netherlands, shelters charge a small fee per night, and require residents to work. In places like the U.S., shelters are often dangerous and unclean, adding even more stress to an already stressful situation.
"People normally get depressed very quickly," Sprakel says. "If you have something like the Housetrike, you can stop the downward spiral. It’s primitive, I know, but you’re free."
He also sees it as a potential solution for refugees in war zones. "It's a pragmatic solution," he says. "If you don't have a house, the safest thing is to stay on the move."
Sprakel has constructed a wooden prototype, and plans to find the final version out of a lightweight plastic. He’s beginning to look for feedback and funding now.