Los Angeles has the largest homeless population in the country. In a city where people spend so much time in their cars, it’s a population that many tend to ignore. But not Peter Samuelson. About five years ago, on a typical weekend bike ride, Samuelson began to notice an increase in the number of people living on the streets. After counting 62 homeless individuals on his route from West L.A. to the beach, he decided he had to do something…Soon after, his unique homeless shelter concept emerged.
Though Samuelson had previously founded three children’s aid nonprofits, he was a media executive not a designer or engineer. He felt he had a good idea for a new form of shelter—he just needed a way to realize it. He started talking directly to the homeless and asking them what they needed. These conversations led him to envision a cart that could unfold into a bed, and after discovering that many of the people with whom he spoke survived on money earned by recycling, he wanted to make sure the cart facilitated that. Privacy—another important issue—meant the cart had to have a means to be secured.
To help transform these ideas into reality, he contacted the Arts Center College of Design in Pasadena, through which he met designers Eric Lindeman and Jason Zasa. The trio finessed their shelter design and took their drawing to Precision Wire, a shopping cart manufacturer in the City of Commerce. After several prototypes, a beta version of EDAR (Everyone Deserves a Roof), a four-wheeled mobile unit based on a shopping cart, was born.
Today, some 170 EDARs are in use with an additional 50 to be distributed next month. Samuelson’s non-profit group partners with philanthropic, governmental, and homeless advocacy organizations to distribute the units. Most are sheltering homeless in the Greater Los Angeles area; other units are being tested in Phoenix, Arizona, Camden, New Jersey and Denver Colorado. EDAR is exploring expansion opportunities in various other communities such as Austin, San Francisco and New York.
Some might suggest that providing such durable shelters only serves to encourage homelessness. “Yes, they are more comfortable in an EDAR unit, but I don’t think that is giving them an incentive to remain homeless,” EDAR’s Executive Director Julie Yurth Himot responds. “In fact, we had one woman recently who had an EDAR and was labeled ‘chronically homeless.’ After three weeks, she said that the EDAR reminded her of what it was like to sleep in a real bed and that she wanted to get out of the EDAR and into transitional housing ASAP. She kicked her drug habit and is currently in a transitional housing program.”
Not all EDAR stories are equally rosy, but the fact remains, as Himot explains, “there are just too many people homeless right now. This recession has brought an enormous amount of people into shelters. These families have never been homeless and it doesn’t seem to be stopping.”
Samuelson saw a problem and wanted to help solve it. With over 3 million people, half of them children, experiencing homelessness each year, he couldn’t stand by and do nothing. Not finding the right solution, he created one on his own.