WLS-TV: Northwest Side students create portable shelters for the homeless

By John Garcia

Middle school students in the Belmont Cragin neighborhood have designed and built a prototype for a portable homeless shelter.

They’re the invisible population in Chicago. The thousands of people who have no permanent place to live.

A group of middle school students at the HSA Belmont Charter School developed a possible solutions.

At first glance, the structure looks like some sort of a vehicle, made of plywood with wheels and attached by a tow rod to a bike. It’s got a little door and a couple windows, enough room to sleep in and even store some possessions. And this would be the place they call home.

The 11-and-12-year-old students who designed and built this structure named it “Hope.” It’s a portable homeless shelter.

“It’ll help them have a warm place to stay, somewhere they can relax and not be in the cold,” said student Jozlyn Aquerro.

“Even if we’re not buying them a mansion or a three-bedroom home, this is a place they can stay and can sleep and can have a piece of humanity,” said student Jayla Brown.

The project is the brainchild of their teacher, Peter Legrand. As an engineering teacher, he wanted the kids to apply what they learned to try to solve social problems.

“Initially I thought we would be at for three to four weeks and it became clear that there was something much bigger going on. They really wanted to change the world,” said Legrand.

It is increasingly difficult for the homeless population in Chicago to find shelter.

The director of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless said there are more than 16,000 homeless people on the streets and in shelters in Chicago.

“I think it’s great for the school to engage kids into thinking about homelessness and about what it means,” said Doug Schenkelberg, director of the Chicago Coalition for Homeless.

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The students named the structure “Hope.” Their teacher can relate.

“I have experienced homelessness personally and I can say that what makes a difference is hope,” said Legrand.

All the materials involved, including the bike, which was donated, cost about $150.

The school believes this a prototype that could be mass-produced. Either way, their teacher said it’s been quite an education.