Prototype Moved and New Plans

Last Monday Al had to move away from the camp site, as a cleaning crew came in to clear the area. We agreed to meet again on Saturday at the same place.

I had a look at the site on Wednesday on my way back from work and found that it had been cleaned quite well – unfortunately, also the tree which had given the place a bit of privacy has been cut down and the surrounding bushes forcefully bent to the ground.

The photo above has been taken from the same angle of view as the one of the mobile home in place – in which the buildings in the background are completely hidden by the tree and bushes.

On Saturday morning, Al didn’t show up and I got a bit nervous, because I didn’t know where he had moved to.  Another homeless guy who came looking for Al pointed me to a nearby place where he occasionally stays. After some searching, I found the spot and one of Al’s red hand carts.

On Saturday evening I happened to be in that area again and had another look – the cart was gone, but I met a woman close by who turned out to be Al’s sister and pointed me to the new camp under a highway bridge.

To my surprise I found the mobile home at a space where there is only four feet of headroom, which is three feet less than the prototype’s height.


I scratched my head for a while until I realized that the crate itself is mostly dug in. Also, the tent is squeezed flat and goes down far lower at the front than it would usually be. Al mentioned that the design is “flexible” when I finally met him today. He has given the prototype to a woman who has turned the inside into a really comfy place.

From the conversations I had in the last days I learned a lot about the different ways people deal with homelessness. Not all of it is encouraging, but as long as there are some who are willing to take action, there is hope.

The next step I agreed on with Al is that he builds a workbench and I finish the design for a bicycle trailer version. Given the uncertainty regarding what kind of wheels are available, it seems best to go with a modular approach, where wheels and suspension can be easily exchanged. That will also allow to move multiple trailers with only one pair of wheels if necessary.

Here’s my fist sketch of the bicycle version:

It will be a bit narrower and more lightweight. Al has a trailer with a rigid axle – the idea is to mount that axle to a board that is mounted under the cart but can be pulled out when the cart is to be lowered – a pair of foldable struts support the cart in the middle so that the board with the axle can be pulled out.

I still have to do the detailed design for that solution, but it will be much simpler to build and more robust than the swiveling wheels of the first prototype.


Quick Check in and First Feedback

Today I was around and dropped in at the camp. Al was preparing to go to Street Church, so there wasn’t much time, but he wrote down the most essential feedback:

As for the broken wheel [suspension] and handle, he said “You probably expected that”, and yeah, I had a bad feeling about both all the time. What works on smooth asphalt isn’t necessarily good enough when it gets a little rough. Luckily, Al can fix these things himself.

He had another good idea – making the hatch cover fit to the stowage compartment and also as a table with a post that goes up in the middle of the sitting space. This will take some further thinking though.

Practice Test Started

After having passed the strong wind test, the sleeping test and a couple of walks (and after replacing the 4 inch wheels by 8 inch wheels), the day had come to hand the prototype over for real life testing.

The five mile walk to the destination was easy… with no hills on the route, the  120 pounds of cart and cargo handled effortlessly, and I could jog parts of the way.

At parking lot near the test site I met Al, who is going to test and improve the design.

He recorded while I demonstrated how to setup the platform on which the tent is mounted. After unpacking the tools, we used the platform as workbench to mend a broken folding table Al had found. I cut and drilled aluminum strips with the vice clamped to the platform.

Then we folded it up again and moved it to its destination, where we set it up completely. Al immediately came up with an improvement – pushing two foldable carts into the unused space at both sides of the entrance.

He is pretty happy with the current setup, but certainly will find further details that can be improved during the testing.