In New Delhi, like in many cities, homeless shelters are often so dirty or unsafe—especially for women and families—that homeless people often choose to sleep on the street even when beds are available.
For the last six months, a few families in the city have been testing a new tent-like design meant to make living on the street a little more comfortable. In the winter, when blankets aren't enough to keep someone warm on the sidewalk, and families often burn trash for a little heat, the shelter uses a reflective skin to trap body heat. In the summer, it reverses to reflect the sun and stay cool.
The shelter, called WeatherHyde, can be set up in less than 10 minutes, without tools. Unlike a tent, it doesn't have to be anchored to the ground. To flip the shelter around—or open it up during the day when it gets especially hot—someone just has to pull apart the velcro attachments holding it together.
It has enough room for a family of five, and can help keep families together who might otherwise be separated at city-run shelters. Khushi, a 23 year-old woman who has lived on the streets her entire life, was one of the people to test the shelters earlier this year. In the past, she and her baby had to sleep in a women's only shelter—away from her husband—in the winter.
"Most often communal shelters are provided which are not family-friendly, and are unsafe for women and young children," says Prasoon Kumar, founder of Singapore-based BillionBricks, the nonprofit design and innovation studio that created the new shelter.
Kumar, who worked as an architect and urban planner for more than a decade, decided to devote his time to the nonprofit after watching 9,000 families lose their homes during riots in 2013 in North India. 50 children died when temperatures dropped at night. At the same time, Kumar was working on a design for affordable housing, and struggling to convince his client to take a more innovative approach. Kumar realized how much cities were struggling to house people living in extreme poverty.
"While cities are economic powerhouses, they have in many parts of the world failed to provide their citizenry access to a decent quality of life—homes being one [example]," he says. "Provision of shelter has become one more of the wicked problems that we are unable to solve."
The new shelters are also meant for use in cities after disasters, or for refugees in urban areas. "Typically, shelter kits are provided which are not designed for extreme temperature, and do not provide privacy to families—especially women," says Kumar. "Most shelters for refugees are for medium to long-term and are heavy, require space, not suitable for urban deployment and are slow and expensive to provide."
The first prototypes for the WeatherHyde cost $100, though the designers hope to cut that in half. After their pilot tests, they're also hoping to make the shelters bigger, add solar lights and cell phone chargers, and use the same technique to build temporary shelters for toilets and showers.
Once the design is tweaked, they hope it can be used around the world; they've already tested it in the Himalayas, parts of the U.S., and in Singapore. "We believe by . . . open-sourcing our concepts and making them contextually adaptable, we can create solutions with a significant impact and potential for systemic change," he says.
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