World News

In Brussels, Foldable Tents for Homeless

Posted December 30, 2017 1:23 p.m. EST

With material tents forbidden on the streets of Brussels, homeless people in the Belgian capital are often left without a safe place to sleep. But one entrepreneur seems to have found a way around the rule: origami-style cardboard tents.

The tents can be folded and carried on someone’s back, and are big enough to house two people. The hope is that they can last for a couple of weeks before needing to be replaced, said Xavier Van den Stappen, the entrepreneur behind the ORIG-AMI project

“Cardboards are light, they keep the heat, and if they don’t get wet, they are pretty resistant,” Van den Stappen said Saturday. With the help of a local charity, he handed out 20 tents at a Brussels train station Friday.

The Brussels area had more than 2,600 homeless people in early 2017, according to La Strada, which monitors homelessness in the city. But most of the shelters there are overcrowded by wintertime, said Olivier Vanden Avont, the president of L’Appel du Coeur, the group that helped distribute the tents, as well as day-to-day essentials: a blanket, underwear, a T-shirt and a toilet kit.

“If the cardboard tents can last for a month, this will be a victory already,” Vanden Avont said, adding that homeless people feared the cold more than anything else. Temperatures in Brussels have ranged from 30 degrees to 50 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 1 degree to 10 degrees Celsius) in December.

Van den Stappen said he first thought about the cardboard tents in early 2017, when he was discussing the dangers of the cold with a homeless man who was using cardboard in the streets of Brussels.

“What he had looked more like a coffin than anything else,” Van den Stappen said.

A cardboard factory donated material for the tents, which were assembled at the Lantin prison, near Liège, Belgium. Officials from L’Appel du Coeur plan to meet in early January with the first group of tent users. Their feedback will be passed along to Van den Stappen for future production runs.

He estimated that future versions could cost about 30 euros, or about $36.

One option, he said, would be to rent out tents at music festivals and donate any that are still usable to homeless people. He said he had also been contacted by representatives of aeronautic companies who had heard of the project and wanted to donate cardboard that they could not use.

“The tents won’t last for months, and this is just an emergency response,” Van den Stappen said. “But the concept itself can be sustainable.”