It looks like a gardening shed on wheels, but it turns out it’s giving one formerly homeless man a place to sleep.
“Welcome to Chateau Dan,” said Brian Donlevy, gesturing towards the white shed parked between a car and a tree, just behind some recycling bins at the rear of a home in the west end of Toronto.
His long-time friend Dan, who has struggled with housing issues, built the structure with some help from Donlevy and others. The friends see the cramped living space as one piece of the solution for reducing homelessness and providing a warm place to stay on frigid winter nights.
And they are unveiling it Thursday at the Davenport Perth Community Health Centre at 1 p.m.
Donlevy says his friend, who didn’t feel comfortable doing an interview himself or having his last name used, had been staying in a basement room, but had health issues and worried about the narrow staircase. He also didn’t want to stay in a respite centre, surrounded by other people.
‘I’m going to build myself a house’
“Dan’s always been a pretty sharp and inventive guy,” Donlevy said of the man he’s known for at least 30 years.
“He’d been talking about it for a while and all of a sudden he announced it: ‘I’m going to build myself a house.'”
And so “The Cramper” was born, the name a mish-mash of “camper,” and “cramped,” for obvious reasons.
Donlevy unlocks the padlock on the shed door, swings it open and leans down to squeeze inside his friend’s new mini-home.
Inside, there’s a narrow mattress on a wood base. A second mattress held up by twine can fold down, transforming into a rudimentary Murphy bed beside the other mattress.
The bed takes up the entire length and width of the shed.
The bottom metal frame was fashioned out of a ladder, the wheels came from a bicycle and Donlevy says the entire structure could be made from recycled materials.
In Dan’s case, he used a combination of new and recycled materials, buying items after earning money through odd jobs, such as snow clearing.
Donlevy points to some of The Cramper’s best features: lights, a storage space up top for a sleeping bag, insulated walls and also heating, run through an extension cord.
Tina Conlon, the minister at Davenport Perth Church, will be at the official unveiling of The Cramper Thursday afternoon. Coun. Ana Bailao, the chair of the city’s affordable housing committee, has also been invited.
Conlon says most homeless people want to find alternatives to the shelter system.
“They are looking for solutions and in Dan’s case he has come up with a novel, unique invention that could work,” she said.
Conlon says this idea won’t solve homelessness, though, particularly when there’s no space for a kitchen or bathroom.
But is the space safe? Or legal in Toronto?
“Probably in somebody’s eyes, somebody’s going to find a reason why it won’t work,” Donlevy said, though he’s not sure.
“I think we may have to add a smoke detector to it or something,” he said.
Donlevy calls this just version one, adding that Dan is already planning a new-and-improved bed on wheels with more features, including a window.
“I think this has got huge potential.”