This Backpack Rolls Out Into A Homeless Shelter

For people living on the streets (and the camping crowd, too), the “urban rough sleeper” could offer better protection from the elements and storage during the day.

Even though a few cities are slowly starting to have some success reducing the size of their homeless populations and putting people in permanent housing, most are far from that goal. For those unlucky enough to live on the streets now, a new design could offer an upgrade to the standard cardboard box: The “urban rough sleeper” from a Danish designer is a rugged tent that folds up into a backpack so it can be carried around during the day.


Homelessness may not be as prevalent in Copenhagen as in some American cities like San Francisco and New York, but designer Ragnhild Lübbert Terpling started considering the issue after attending a lecture where she saw images of people living on the street. She was moved by the problem, but equally interested in the creative solutions homeless people had found for shelter, and decided to continue pursuing the idea herself.

“I made the product in collaboration with homeless people,” Terpling says, explaining that she spent weeks at a shelter getting to know the people there. “They had to have some trust in me being there before they would talk to me. A lot of them were addicts or physically or mentally ill people, so it took some time.”

Eventually, after dozens of interviews to better understand the problem, she found two people who worked closely with her on the design. “I showed them sketches and the design and they gave me feedback on how it would actually work, because they are the experts. They also helped me test the final product.”

Terpling also partnered with her husband, a sailmaker, who offered advice on finding waterproof, sturdy materials that could survive in a rough environment. Though they haven’t yet done long-term tests of durability, Terpling says that if the product develops small holes it can easily be repaired.

When it’s rolled up into a backpack, the design can also serve as storage. “I observed how the homeless forget their stuff or lose their stuff–they have quite a lot of things actually, but a lot of them don’t have one place to keep their stuff together. So that’s an important part of the product as well,” Terling explains. “So it’s storage, mobility, and shelter–those are the three problems that the product can help with solving.”

Right now, Terpling has two prototypes, and is working to refine final details before beginning manufacture. She plans to sell the backpack to the camping market, and will use the proceeds to give away as many as possible to those on the streets.

About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.