Category Archives: Design Inspirations

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.

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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Backpack Bed

The Backpack Bed by Swags for Homeless is one of the only emergency homeless shelter designs which has gone through to commercial manufacture.

Whilst the company claim that it’s received 5 international design awards I feel like its fundamentally let down by the fact it doesn’t implement any structural poles in its design which means that the user has to find a suitable place to tie the bag up, else it will just lay on top of you.


  • Compact design
  • Built in roll-mat
  • Quick setup
  • Portable
  • Multi-functional (can be used as wind-break etc)
  • Good visibility when inside
  • Doesn’t look like a ‘tent’ when packed up
  • Built in fly-net
  • Internal compartments
  • Fully Waterproof


  • Not freestanding
  • Lack of structural supports
  • Stability issues in high winds
  • Exposed entrance
  • Limited space for personal posessions
  • If rolled up wet or in the rain water is kept inside
  • Fixed backpack size means that sleeping bag will have to be packed separate
  • Poor ventilation if not tied up
  • Messy looking if not tied up
  • If not tied up then increase in thermal heat-loss as bag is touching person
  • Increased risk of condensation if not tied up
  • Lack of suitable places to ‘pitch’ it
  • A-frame design is inefficient on space

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