Over half a million people in the U.S. are currently homeless (1) – none of them by choice. Only about 65% of them stay in shelters at night, with the other 35% – approximately 200,000 people – sleeping in abandoned buildings, park benches, sidewalks, etc.
Similar percentages can be seen across the developed world. However, a non-profit organization in Brisbane, Australia, is working on the problem in a rather creative way.
Norman McGillivray was looking for a way to help homeless people in his town in a meaningful way and so he created Beddown (2). The idea came to him when he noticed the almost completely empty carpark in his local shopping center. He contacted Secure Parking, a carpark operator in the area, and he persuaded them to join his enterprise for better utilization of city spaces at night.
The goal of Beddown is to take spaces that are used throughout the day but not during the night and turn them into pop-up shelters for the homeless. The idea was simple – store beds and bedding near the location and take them out at night when the carpark is empty.
The idea grew beyond simple beds. Even on their first trial, Normal McGillivray and his team had doctors, nurses, hairdressers, and dentists on location to help the guests staying at the pop-up homeless shelter.
Norman’s idea is reaping great success and praise across Australia and beyond and can hopefully grow bigger. If more people realize that homelessness is a societal problem and not a personal one, we could do a lot more good for each other.
Who are the homeless?
A person can become homeless in a lot of different ways, none of which are intentional. There are some groups that are at greater risk, however – here are the most common victims (3):
- Army veterans. The U.S. military may help a lot of its servicemen and women to find education and careers, but a staggering number of people are left out regardless. Over 10% of homeless people in the U.S. are veterans, usually suffering from PTSD and other mental and physical problems due to their service.
- Children discharged from the foster care system. Children who don’t get adopted and grow out of the system have very limited opportunities for a good life and usually end up on the streets.
- Domestic violence victims make up about 15% of homeless people in the U.S. and are usually women.
- Rehab patients and former inmates. With over 1% of the U.S. population being in prison, it’s no surprise that the homeless people’s numbers are growing as well. People coming out of prison or a rehab center have immense difficulties reintegrating into society and finding stable employment.
- Victims of traumatic accidents. Job losses, divorces, house fires, diseases, physical disabilities – there are lots of ways for someone to go bankrupt by chance even if they were doing everything “right” up to that point.
How can a simple bed help?
Homeless people face a myriad of challenges and one shelter at night can’t solve all of them. However, it’s still a good start as it offers protection, security, and thus – the ability to think beyond your immediate survival (4). Even just sleep deprivation is a major problem for homeless people which free shelters can help solve and, in doing so, vastly improve these people’s lives (5), and prevent conditions such as mental psychosis, and others (6).
How big is Beddown’s impact?
Whether Beddown is going to have a global effect is yet to be seen but even just in Brisbane, the initiative has helped a lot of people. Here are some of the participants’ testimonials:
“After spending the week here, having a good sleep at night and a routine, it reminded me of life and I booked myself into Rehab for 6 months.”
“Being able to sleep all night and away from drugs, I’m clearer in the day and have not used drugs for 8 days.”
“It’s the first time I have had a dream in years.”
“I don’t have to watch my back here.”
McGillivray has founded Beddown on 3 main principles:
- Everyone deserves a bed to sleep in.
- We need to repair the quality of life before we can build a life of quality.
- We need to expedite the end of Beddown.
Like any good initiative, Beddown’s goal is to one day become unnecessary. Hopefully, others can help so that it can happen sooner.