An innovative idea from Slovakia that takes the idea of using billboards to house the homeless, could soon be on its way to America.
Project Gregory is a housing concept by Slovakian company Design Develop, which takes advertising billboards and turns them into small accommodations for people living on the street.
The idea has gained recognition around the world, but has caught particular interest in the U.S., where recent laws have restricted the places that the homeless can frequent. In some states, street people are continually moved on, as part of a ‘clean up’ programme that was first instigated in New York.
The Slovakia-based project aims to take the typical eyesore of billboard advertising, and use it to provide a solution to the thousands of homeless around the world. The project’s name Gregory comes from the founder of the project, who wanted to stay anonymous, but Matej Nedorolik, DesignDevelop’s business manager, told reporters how he came up with the initial premise:
“Gregory was walking down the street, and he saw this big billboard along the motorway,” Nedorolik says. “So he started to think about it in a way. How can it be used in other ways? How can it be useful for other people?”
In Slovakia, the billboards used for advertising are slightly different to some other countries, in that they are triangular in shape, much like a pyramid structure. They are designed so that drivers can see the display from every angle of approach. However, this meant that in the middle of the structure is an un-used V shaped space, which the Project Gregory team thought could be used for housing.
A statement on the Project Gregory website says:
‘Cities are engulfed with rigid constructions for billboard advertisment which are expensive to put up, maintain and their subsequent renting is a costly venture. The Gregory project brings optimalization to the construction of billboard structures in a way that the insides of these, after the extension, could be turned into a living space.’
The idea was initially a student project, but as it garnered attention, Gregory decided to move it forward and out of the student realm. His team set about creating sketches for the architectural design that would fit inside the billboard structure, and subsequently came up with plans for a two-bedroom apartment, including a kitchen, an office, a bed, and a bathroom.
Once a homeless person has somewhere to live, they are more likely to be able to apply for benefits, or get employment in order to get back on their feet. They can take a shower, sleep feeling safe and start to participate in society again.
“With this project, we would like to give them a chance to get back into a normal life, to start with a new job or start with a new family or so on,” says Nedorolik.
And Nedorolk is so passionate about the housing project that the blueprints for the structures are available for free:
“It’s an open-source project, so anyone who wants to participate [in] it is very welcome.”
There are some that might say the housing project is too expensive and that state budgets cannot afford it, but there is evidence to suggest that providing the homeless with some kind of shelter actually reduces money the government has to pay out. For example, in Charlotte, N.C., an 85-bed unit constructed in 2013 saved the city around $1.8 million, as this meant fewer homeless were sleeping outside in the elements and therefore required less emergency room treatments.
And as the project points out, there would be minimal maintenance required and some of the costs could possibly come out of the rental of the advertising space itself.
Project Gregory is still looking for backers in order to get the structures underway, but they first want to build a prototype and test it, to make sure it is suitable:
“The plan for the future is, first, to make one model of the billboard where we can try all the technical abilities of the billboard house,” Nedorolik says.