Category Archives: Project Room

Portable Shelter for the Homeless by Charles Heydinger

The Portable Shelter for the Homeless by Charles Heydinger is one of the only designs I’ve found which integrates a folding frame into the design. This has probably been implemented for the following reasons:

  1. It provides additional comfort whilst sleeping
  2. It provides an air gap beneath the occupant, allowing:
    1. Water and moisture to remain on the ground and not penetrate the floor of the shelter
    2. The air gap acts as an insulation void between the occupant and the floor, preventing heat-loss from occupant through to floor via convection.
  3. Minimizes the need for an additional roll mat
  4. provides a structural frame for the shelter allowing it to be carried via rucksack straps with ease.
  5. Allows users to sleep OFF the floor/streets, which helps to maintain a little more dignity
  6. Provides room underneath the shelter to store possessions, food/drink, clothing etc
  7. Allows user to sit somewhere after they get up, which provides comfort when putting on shoes etc
  8. Protects the underside of the shelter from the ground, this means that less premium material can be used on the base.
  9. Allows for fail-safe shelter setup

The REAL question is… is it suitable for use on the streets? I personally don’t think so, see my Pros and Cons at the bottom of the page to find out why.

From the developer

Portable Shelter for the Homeless – Designed in collaboration with residents at Union Mission Shelter in Savannah, this portable field shelter was made to solve a variety of issues involved with being homeless and living on the streets. It is compact, camouflaged, weather resistant, portable, elevated from the ground, and has protective features. Made from inexpensive materials and utilizing a common beach chair, it is cheaper and more useful for its purpose than a tent. It deploys and folds up quickly, turning into a backpack.


  • The weight of the user keeps the shelter stable due to tensile stresses on the fabric (good: minimises weight, bad: see below)
  • Integration of folding frame provides many benefits listed above
  • Camouflage outer fabric blends in well with surrounding areas making it more inconspicuous
  • Good visability
  • Efficient use of space
  • Easy to unpack and pack up
  • Side opening design means that users don’t have to crawl or shuffle into it. Allows for easier access.
  • Weight savings due to minimal structural poles
  • Relatively lightweight which allows users to carry it on their back.


  • Hinged frame design potentially means that nothing can be stored inside the shelter when being packed down
  • Single skinned design means that condensation build up is likely
  • Side opening means you are exposed to the elements when you open it up. If you’re trying to pitch it in the rain then the rain will get inside the shelter, making for a moist nights sleep.
  • Frame increases the height of the design which increases visibility
  • Lack of supporting poles means tent is likely to flap around and create noise in the wind
  • Frame will have to be made from metal, more likely to break, bend or snap at joints when being used on the streets, the unit will not be carefully assembled or carefully used once on the street. Because frame is built into the design, there is little chance of it being repaired, once one part of the frame doesn’t work, the unit is almost rendered useless. To increase the strength of the unit to be used on the streets, you’ll have to use thicker metal throughout, leading to increased weight and lack of portability.
  • There is a lot of tension on the fabric, if somebody were to fall onto it or mistreat it in anyway then it’s likely the fabric would rip apart.
  • Due to having two fold-down legs, you must find perfectly level ground else the unit might become unstable.
  • It’s almost too roomy and accessible, meaning that there’s an increased likelihood that people will start to use it as a tent and live out of it, keeping it permanently up.
  • it has a large footprint
  • Might only be suitable for shorter people, a larger frame would be required for longer people which would increase the packed size.


It’s a good design in concept, but practically thinking I don’t think it would work on the streets. There would be far to many rips, tears, and broken frame elements to start with due to the design’s nature to rely on the fabric tension to keep the unit together.

The fact that you have to enter the shelter from the side/top, means that water ingress is more likely, as soon as it’s wet inside the shelter, you’ve lost the battle.

The folding frame doesn’t allow for a sleeping bag to be stored within the unit, which also means that it has to be carried separately and is more at risk of becoming wet.

Shelter Pole Material and Diameter

Perhaps one of the most crucial elements of the shelter is finding the right material to use for the structural pole elements of the design.

After rushing in to buying SpeedFit plumbing pipe as a “cheap” and temporary means of creating my first prototype I realized that was a big mistake as the pipe almost relaxes into whatever shape you bend it into, which is great for plumbing, but not so great for making emergency crisis shelters!

This I found out after measuring out all of my poles, bending them into the correct shape, and putting together my first prototype frame, I came back the following day only to find that my shelter looked a little floppy and lacking rigidity – I discovered that the poles had relaxed into their stressed shape and lost all structural integrity…

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Ragnhild Lübbert Terpling Urban Sleeper

The Terpling Urban Sleeper is one of the only fully folding, free standing, self-contained designs currently in existence.

Its convenient design allows for the unit to be packed up within a matter of seconds if required.

The structural poles for the design are built in and none-removable but I can’t help but feel that there would be more structural integrity if the poles were angled and met at the top of the frame.


  • Compact Design
  • Freestanding
  • Large front opening
  • No assembly required
  • Contained structural elements
  • Fully Waterproof
  • Design allows for excess water to drip off naturally. Plenty of ventilation will prevent mildew forming.


  • Due to folding design it’s harder to build in a roll mat
  • Limited visibility top and behind
  • Lack of ventilation
  • Hot in summer
  • Could collapse (domino effect) under high winds/rain
  • Not kept taught length ways
  • No mosquito nets

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Preliminary Market Research

There are numerous homeless shelter designs currently on the internet, some are good, some are simply not practical. It also seems that there are only a few designs that have actually made it to market and are being manufactured. I suspect this is because it’s simply not commercially viable to design, develop and manufacture a product which is given to the end user for free. We don’t have to go into this though.

Find below my preliminary market research to see what’s currently out there. In no particular order.

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Idea Conception

For a number of years whilst I was at university in Bristol I used to volunteer at the Julians Trust Homeless Shelter (also known as the Bristol Night Shelter). It was here I got my first experience of homelessness.

Amongst other things, the shelter provides warm meals, showers and professional support for around 80 people per night. Each night it also supplies 18 emergency beds for the homeless, people that would otherwise be sleeping on the streets.

Like almost all other homeless shelters, the Julians Trust shelter relies on donations and volunteer support to operate. The running costs for such an establishments are very high, and even though the shelter is only open in the evenings through to the morning (9.30pm and 10.30pm), for 5 days a week, it still costs in excess of £1,500 per week to run (2013)).

Personally, I believe there should be more organisations like the Julians Trust to cater for the increasing number of homeless people ending up on the streets each week but I’m a realist and I understand that organisations like the Julians Trust take a lot of time, effort, money and passion to start up and continue operation and these aren’t always in great supply.

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