Cadillac of Homeless Shelters

My name is Paul Elkins. I live in Stanwood Washington USA with my lovely wife Mary and our two dogs. In my spare time I play in my shop creating a host of toys and things that roll, mostly. They all start as and idea that gets transfered to paper. I’ve been doing this idea hatching thing since I was a kid. I recieving my first serious sketch pad on Christmas morning when I was 8 years old.

My original intent was to design and construct a simple, light weight, water tight insulated box on wheels geared for the northwest climate that an urban street person could reside in (with all the comforts of home of course) and have an area to display and sell handmade wares.

Wayno is demonstrating the proper way to push the shelter. All 225 pounds of it, empty.

Many homeless people are actually more creative than you might think, and not all want to beg or go rummage around in trash cans all day for a living. Homeless people have pride too! Also, this I think would make a better connection with the public.

So, what started as something that was suppose to be simple and cheap, well, let’s say I got a bit carried away…

What we have here is the Cadillac of homeless shelters…

Paul has developed a complete water collection system and other necessities into this homeless shelter. You can see more pictures and explanation of his design at his blog HighMileageTrikes.

The Homeless Shelter is 78" long, 36" wide and 51" tall. The sitting room is 42"wide. The wheels are 8" in diameter and lockable. The unit rides 9.5" off the ground. (Wares example)- Displayed wire sculptures from recycled wire.
Construction progress.
As you can see I'm very comfortable in this arrangement. More time and money could have been put into these cusions but they, as with most of my projects, are merely for proof of concept.
The two vents in the rear will soon have some sort of louver adjustments in case strong winds blow too cool of air in.
Originally I was just going to use the spigot on the 5 gallon container, but after some thought I installed a spigot over the sink (bread pan). This view shows all the doors open.

36 thoughts on “Cadillac of Homeless Shelters”

  1. HEY! I love the designs youve done (at your blog-I just visited it).
    I just wanted to give you a bit of helpin something I noticed that youve had problems with in the past. You had said in one of your blog posts that you used a variety of wall thickness in some of your inventions and had trouble bending thinner wall tubing because it would collapse. Well I have a great fix for that! Itll enable you to bend ANY thin wall tubing without it collapsing. The only thing youll need is access to a tall or long full size freezer, and some water. (Do you know where im going with this?)
    Well anyway, you simply plug up 1 end of the tubing you want to bend, then fill the tubing with water and plug the other end so that it doesnt leak. Then stick the whole thing in the freezer till the waters frozen (dont do this with tubing that has a seam that wont hold water.)
    Anywho, once the waters frozen you can then bend the tube with any tubing bender or muscle it along by hand (but itll be difficult to so by hand when its got ice in it. ) But anyway, they use this method of bending tubing in order to make trumpets and saxaphones and other thin wall tubing instruments.
    So, the idea is that the ice is hard and strong enough (when confined in the tube) to keep the tubing from collapsing when bending.
    Ive tried it myself and its worked very very well for me especially with very thin wall tube such as brass, copper,aluminum, and steel.
    I did it once with steel tubing but the problem I came across was due to the fact that the tube has a welded seam that ran the full length of the tube, and it wasnt very strong of a weld and the ice cracked the seam as it expanded . The ice wont expand that much, but it was just enough to mess it up enough to have to find a new piece of tube that didnt have a seam.
    I hope this helps you !!
    Sincerely Joseph Kenyon
    ( )

  2. Paul—

    Very well thought out, and perhaps even better, very thought provoking.

    Not being homeless, but looking at your homeless shelter, it me makes me ask, “Just how much is it that I really need?”


    • You’d be surprised. These days with a cell phone and laptop you pretty much have all your communications, reading and viewing entertainment. The rest is, well, as you can see, not much!

  3. Very creative- and looks as if a TON of work and time went into the design and creation of it. The wooden, flat roof, seems the only worry I’d have- but the flat surface to display wares, is a great idea.

    If this guy weren’t in Washington, I’d LOVE to shoot this thing for an episode of TINY YELLOW HOUSE TV.

    I have a homeless, mini-cube design I’ve been workin’ on- Its only a comic-like/pretty-detailed sketch, but Kent, I’ll have to send it your way at some point (I also plan on trying to build it eventually).

    -Deek and Tiny Yellow House TV

    • Spied on your episode 1 video Deek, Fantastic!
      My kind of guy. Making instead of thinking, I like that, and with a sense of humor..
      Make some more videos!
      I made a towable bicycle camper several years back for burningman. stayed in it for 2 festivals.
      It’s posted at the end of my blog if interested.
      And yes, it did take a bit of planning and work to get this thing done. Thank god my wife is a tolerant individual.

  4. Nice! I can see a detachable folding fabric canopy on top being handy for shade and rain protection as well as providing some extra outdoor living space.

    • My thoughts exactly! It could drain rain water to the roof for more water collection too. There are other accessories I’d like to someday put on like the auning, stereo and speakers, clothes drying rack, solar electricity etc.

  5. I think it’s great. Concerned that the roof would catch rain though. Is there any way to catch the run-off for use?

    Now – how to get it out there to those who need it.

  6. is there some sort of bathroom? just curious. I’m lookikng to start a similar project and I find these ideas facinating. I feel that everyone should have to live in something so basic for at least a month so that we can understand what luxuries we really need.

  7. Paul, very clever. I’ve been noodling ideas for an ultra-small car trailer camper, and your design is very close to what I want. Put it on a small car trailer, and voila. You might think of adapting it for that purpose and putting/selling plans on the web.

  8. Now someone needs to come up with a safe place for the homeless to park these shelters when not on the street collecting resources. Or is that something that already exists?

  9. Really well thought out. The windows make it so it is not claustrophobic.

    Now if they could make it legal for these to be set up on vacant lots such as they do with city gardens and maybe supply some kind of community bathroom including showers.

    I am glad to see that people are working on the problem of homelessness because Uncle Sam sure isn’t!

  10. Paul, congratulations! It’s so refreshing to see that there are people looking for solutions instead of complaining. There are so many empty lots now days. Probably, the creation of a temporary park for homeless people where they can be until they rebuilt they life, could be a good solution.

  11. I hope your homeless person doesn’t live in a very hilly place. Otherwise there might be some trouble pushing that thing up a hill.

  12. Great idea for homeless folks. I like the design. No one deserves to be homeless.
    Gotta ask, how much does it cost, homeless people are poor ?

    • Cathy, I was homeless for 6 months once. I had researched a move out of state,put a deposit down for a room at the YWCA, got Rite Aide to give me a transfer, and made the move. When I got to the YWCA they had given my room to someone else. Because I had no address or phone number I lost my job. I also lost all my stuff because I could not afford a storage unit.Well I ended up with three part time jobs but it took me 6 months to save up enough money for a month deposit and the first month rent. I also had to come up with a deposit for utilities. There are many reasons and causes for homelessness. As a woman alone, I would be very concerned for safety. How would I be safe in a box on the street?

  13. Hi,
    I like your unit and think it is nicely thought out and built.

    Here is another similar unit that may interest you if you have not seen it…..

    They seem to have a marketing and distribution system for their units already and may be able to help you with that….


  14. It is tiny, but it has a sink and a stove. maybe when they house the homeless vets, they can provide them a tiny home in a camping area, instead of trying to stuff them into an apartment building and have their PTSD get the best of them.

  15. This is a great idea! The only concern I have is the size and type of the wheels. I think the kind of wheel you have might work quite well in easy pushing situations. But might be really difficult on rough ground or bumpy services. I am guessing that the way the wheels you have chosen swivel will make it very manoeuvrable, but the size would seem to me likely to get stuck in holes or in soft ground. At first I thought maybe larger wheels like barrow orbicycle wheels might work better, but they would not swivel, and using four of them would make manoeuvring difficult. The only option that I can think of that might avoid the wheels getting stuck and allow larger wheels to be used would be to have two wheels in the middle and two shorter resting feet at the front, like a two wheeled barrow, for when you stop. This might do the trick and avoid getting stuck and keep manoeuvrability whilst making it around, and then you would need stabilisers that could be put down when the shelter was parked and being used. Anyway hope this is constructive, and good luck with them!

  16. How can I. Get a blueprint of a homeless shelter on wheels. So i buld one for my self i like to redesine it to what i whont in it or one that i can put on hack of a bicycle. Please replay to the email address that provide

  17. Its ingenious but trusting design.

    It looks somewhat fragile for a homeless person to sleep in when around them others don’t get the same treatment. I think for practicality you’d need to start from a more durable rain proof shell.

    Secondly, I think you’d have to do something about the wheels. I see poor sleeping people being pushed into traffic.

  18. Hi I like this idea. I would use the louvered window off a VW westfallia. I think the closets & doors out of one of those would be perfect as well. Awesome concept!


Leave a Comment