COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Aspiring engineers at Ohio State University are sketching the blueprints for a movable, shed-like shelter to temporarily house residents at a Columbus homeless camp.
In early January, students in an Ohio State engineering class partnered with unhoused residents living near a now-closed park on the Far South Side to design a prototype for an emergency, collapsible micro-shelter to protect unsheltered people and their belongings from the elements, according to Emily Myers, founder of the homeless advocacy group Heer to Serve.
“Everybody’s gonna win on this,” said Adam Sutphin, a 46-year-old who lives at the homeless encampment near Heer Park. “They’re learning, and we’re getting a place to lay our heads.”
Sutphin was one of dozens of people who found himself without a home last June when the City of Columbus evicted residents from his Heer Park homeless camp, citing too many complaints from neighbors and businesses. Residents relocated to a nearby area, carrying bags, clothes and other belongings by the armload.
To prevent residents’ items from being damaged – and to allow unhoused people to move more seamlessly in the event of future sweeps or emergencies – Myers said the “sweep-proof” micro-shelter prototypes will be equipped with wheels.
“They talked about having it on wheels, like your pull-behind, pop-up camper,” Sutphin said. “It’s on wheels, so it’s easily transportable, but they’re going to fold up inside and we’re going to be able to stabilize it to the ground. Later on down the road, you got residents, they can pack it up and haul it off.”
Sutphin and other residents living near Heer Park have met with the Ohio State engineering students every week since January to brainstorm the micro-shelter’s design, Myers said.
Although the prototype is still in the works, Sutphin said plastic was a top contender for the micro-shelter’s material, as it’s lightweight, durable and more suitable to keep its contents dry than a tent. Solar panels and simple plumbing were even thrown into the mix as a way to provide residents with hot water.
Scott Riffle, 58, lives with Sutphin near Heer Park, where he’s stayed for about five years. He said the micro-shelters will be a game changer, not only for protecting him and his fellow residents from extreme temperatures but also from fluke accidents. In 2022 alone, Riffle said nine fires – including one sparked by a propane tank – broke out at the encampment, destroying nearly everything in its wake.
“Me and Adam’s tent was one of them. It went up (in flames) about a month ago,” Riffle said. “The only thing we had was the clothes on our back.”
The prototype is estimated to be complete by the end of April, Myers said. Once the Ohio State students finish an initial design, she said the plan is to mass produce the emergency micro-shelters, each expected to cost between $1,500 and $3,000.
“It’s really trying to give a little bit more respect and dignity towards people that are consistently oppressed in so many ways in our city,” Myers said.