UBC grad students Kurt Yesilcimen, second from left, and Connor Keegan, far right, give the cart a final inspection before handing it over to Metro Community Church’s Devon Siebenga and Ramsay Collier.
A new innovation to help homeless people is being tested out in Kelowna.
UBC Okanagan’s School of Engineering has partnered with the Metro Community Church on the first-ever personal belongings carrier, specifically designed for homeless people.
“Crafted by faculty, staff and students at the School of Engineering, the carrier is partially constructed with composite materials designed in the Okanagan node of UBC’s Composites Research Network. The goal was to make something strong, yet light that can be easily manipulated along city streets,” says project engineer Bryn Crawford.
Last week, Crawford’s team handed the original prototype to representatives from Metro Community Church — which provides a safe place for people struggling with homelessness, mental health challenges, addiction and poverty. The prototype will be given to a member of the street community to test drive on the streets and provide feedback to the engineers.
“We’re certainly excited to pick this one up and get it out on the streets for a test drive,” says Metro’s Devon Siebenga. “We have a couple members of our community in mind who will be able to use this and let us know how practical it is.”
The cart will allow homeless people to secure their belongings, normally stowed in shopping carts. The carts are lockable and users can leave them while they attend appointments, get a meal or access other support services. This first one, which can be dismantled into three lockable sections, is made of plywood and specialty designed composites, comes equipped with hand brakes, a removable bicycle hitch, a GPS unit, shelving inside each compartment and 3D-printed wheel hubs.
“Many of the people who live on the streets, live from minute-to-minute and stress about securing their belongings,” explains Siebenga. “This limits their ability to get a hand up and the problems further compromise their sense of stability and path to recovery. This personal belongings carrier is a first small step in restoring their dignity.”
The development of the project turned into a community venture with input from the church, UBC, the RCMP and the City of Kelowna. Local manufacturer Waterplay Solutions contributed more than $9,500 in-kind to the project and the team received an Engage grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council.
A stakeholder focus group will track the success of the carts once it gets feedback from the end users. Three other carts are currently being assembled by students while Crawford and Siebenga are looking at methods to get them streets as quickly as possible.
“The average person on the street has no desire to be there, nor do they want to use shopping carts. This provides a dignified alternative while they seek to get their lives back on track,” says Siebenga. “In the long run, the hope is to see people engage in ownership of each cart, taking responsibility and using the opportunity to move towards a permanent housing solution, as they fret less about the security of their worldly belongings, and focus more on recovery, safety and housing.”
(Story contributed by UBC Okanagan)