Overview

This project was the result of Carnegie Mellon University Impact-A-Thon 2014. We progressed through preliminary research, stakeholder interviews, ideation, and feasibility research over several days in order to present a concept to judges and the campus community.

We were prompted to find a solution to the issue of homelessness in extremely cold weather conditions. When the temperatures drop below freezing, the homeless who would otherwise avoid shelters are forced indoors. One of our main concerns at the outset of the project was to learn what issues are driving the homeless away from shelters for the rest of the year, in hopes that we might be able to address multiple needs with one solution.

Research

Our research taught us that traditional shelters have some very serious drawbacks and failures. Simply the proximity to so many other people increases the chances of getting sick, not to mention the potential for theft and physical abuse. We also discovered that shelter personnel are often the perpetrators of sexual abuse, rather than the preventers. This mistrust alone drives homeless individuals away from shelters.

On top of that, there are logistical concerns. Homeless shelters have check-in and check-out times, which often do not correspond with the schedules of the working homeless. This large population of individuals also cannot make use of shelter facilities because it would cost them their jobs. This particular insight led us to consider solutions that would allow users to keep their schedules and their autonomy.

Solution

We propose a fleet of renovated shipping containers (Container Cabins), modified to provide for the basic needs of shelter, warmth, and security, while allowing individuals the autonomy to reserve space, enter, and leave as they see fit. This represents a paradigm shift in which access to shelter is no longer centralized at a traditional homeless shelter, but dispersed throughout an urban area. This can be accomplished by taking advantage of the existing network of city computers and connected parking kiosks. By using these computer systems to reserve space in a Container Cabin, individuals can access the shelter they need at their convenience and on their schedule. By making each Container Cabin private and secure, individuals are freed from many of the dangers they would face in traditional shelters.