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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 — 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."

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Life On "Mars": With The Teams Simulating Space Missions Under A Dome

A niche research community plays out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another planet.

Photo of a person in a space suit walking toward the ​Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah

At the Mars Desert Research Station near Hanksville, Utah

Sarah Scoles

In November 2022, Tara Sweeney’s plane landed on Thwaites Glacier, a 74,000-square-mile mass of frozen water in West Antarctica. She arrived with an international research team to study the glacier’s geology and ice fabric, and how its ice melt might contribute to sea level rise. But while near Earth’s southernmost point, Sweeney kept thinking about the moon.

“It felt every bit of what I think it will feel like being a space explorer,” said Sweeney, a former Air Force officer who’s now working on a doctorate in lunar geology at the University of Texas at El Paso. “You have all of these resources, and you get to be the one to go out and do the exploring and do the science. And that was really spectacular.”

That similarity is why space scientists study the physiology and psychology of people living in Antarctic and other remote outposts: For around 25 years, people have played out what existence might be like on, or en route to, another world. Polar explorers are, in a way, analogous to astronauts who land on alien planets. And while Sweeney wasn’t technically on an “analog astronaut” mission — her primary objective being the geological exploration of Earth — her days played out much the same as a space explorer’s might.

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