Turning A Grocery Cart Into A "Rolling Shelter" For The Homeless

Argentine architect Eduardo Lacroze's creation turns the ubiquitous supermarket trolley into a portable, private space for people who live on the streets. But it's not without controversy.

The award-winning rolling shelter.
The award-winning rolling shelter.
Miguel Jurado

BUENOS AIRES â€" Urbanites are familiar with homeless people pushing supermarket carts around the streets with their belongings inside. But now an Argentine architect has designed a one-man shelter around such carts, providing the homeless with a small room they can wheel around with them. The American Institute of Architects and the Atlanta-nonprofit Mad Housers even awarded a prize for the creation of this so-called "rolling shelter."

Yet Eduardo Lacroze's design is not without controversy, as critics suggest that his shelter only condemns homeless people to intolerable circumstances. Still, the "rolling shelter" could work perfectly in Buenos Aires, where about 1,200 people are thought to sleep on the streets. Manuel Lozano of a local NGO, Funcación Sí, says the number grows when considering those who have virtually no options.

"To those effectively sleeping on the street, you would have to add those in provisional accommodation, hostels, hotels or those on housing subsidy," Lozano says. "That is, people with precarious housing solutions."

The number of homeless people is growing in Argentina, though the problem is worse in the United States and is increasingly becoming a global issue.

The rolling refuge "grows" around the typical supermarket cart like an enormous boxy rucksack. The shelter hangs on the sides of the trolley, and when it's parked, opens sideways to create a sleeping space. It's made of reinforced plastic panels with air cells inside that improve the thermal insulation. A sleeping bag fits inside it. Its advantage, Lacroze says, is that it "resolves in a single element the issues of roof and storage for a homeless person."

He hopes to mitigate production costs with trolley donations from supermarkets. A unit currently costs $500. He is soliciting U.S. government help to build a number of these shelters to offer them on the streets to the homeless. "You could organize a system like bicycles," he says. "People would take them out of the shelter when they need one and take it back when they're done."

Photo: Lacroze-Miguens-Prati

Homeless people are a symptom of segregation inside big cities and victims of seemingly irredeemable economic and social marginalization. There are numerous, complex reasons why so many end up on the streets: addiction, family abuse or mistreatment, mental illness, extreme poverty and abandonment, among them. In all such cases, the person concerned has lost all social and family safety nets.

Critics say that this "solution" of mobile shelters will merely prolong the plight of the homeless, rather than solve it. Lozano responds that he is "just glad someone has started to think about how to improve the conditions of people living on the street." He says that condemning him for the idea is like "accusing a doctor of interrupting bleeding first before attending to what caused it."

After winning an award for his creation, Lacroze sought financing and company interest in making his prototype in large quantities. "Ground-level organizations like Mad Housers, which commissioned the project, are very skeptical about what public institutions and corporations can do," he says. "Our effort involves building a bridge with them."

It was the mobile and provisional nature of the concept that most caught the attention of the prize-giving jury, which included architects, industrialists and homeless people.

"They saw the shelter more like a suitcase than a house, as something more accessible, which people can maintain and take around," he says. "A first step toward a definitive solution."

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

— Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.

It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park


Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!