A high-tech shopping cart for the homeless

This tricked-out trolley aims to help secure the belongings of Canada’s nomadic homeless population.

Shopping cart stock image

Stock image via Shutterstock

Homeless people rely heavily on shopping carts for the transportation of their possessions. Now, thanks to a collaborative effort between the University of British Columbia Okanagan’s School of Engineering, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Metro Community Church and City Hall, a group of UBC engineering students in Kelowna have redesigned the traditional shopping cart prototype with this focal function front of mind.

One major issue associated with the homeless lifestyle is that members of the community cannot secure their belongings and leave them in a safe place while they attend appointments, get a meal or access other support services. It is for this reason that the central feature of the students’ design became security.

Initially, they had other ideas: “Something we thought initially would be really cool was if we were able to integrate some sort of bed into this cart so that people could fold it open and sleep on it,” student Tyler Ho told Global News. “RCMP came and told us that wasn’t a good idea just because people aren’t allowed to sleep in public.” 

The students turned their attention to developing a device that would effectively store and secure its user's belongings. The resultant prototype is an enclosed structure made of fibreglass, sporting a rounded top (an attempt at discouraging hoarding) that can be pulled apart for easier transportation. Lighter than traditional steel shopping carts, the streamlined design allows for the integration of features like an electrical generator for lockable storage. 

As Kelowna’s Metro Community Church representative Sandy Shier explained, the homeless are stressfully forced to live minute-to-minute securing their belongings, limiting their ability to get a hand up and compromising their quality of life. “This is a first small step in restoring their dignity,” she says of the prototype.

Each cart is expected to be priced at around $1,500, with trial carts being paid for by donations. The student designers aim to have four prototypes ready to be trialed by members of the town’s street population by June 2017.

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