As the weather gets colder in the UK, the issue of homelessness becomes even more dire. While it is known that hundreds of people without a stable home die each year across the nation, getting an official count has been impossible until recently, thanks to the efforts of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and the Museum of Homelessness.
In 2020, the museum reported that 976 people died on the streets from several different causes varying from drugs and alcohol, suicide, and diseases like cancer, all of which become even more difficult to cope with if you’re left without shelter.
The National Records of Scotland did their own calculations and estimated that 256 unsheltered people perished north of the border, more than half of which were drug-related—an increase of 40 deaths compared with 2019.
These deaths could be prevented if unsheltered people had somewhere to turn to where they would be warm, dignified, and safe, however, it has proven to be quite difficult to strike a good balance between all these factors. Hostels and shelters are normally the first options for unsheltered people, but many are wary of them because they feel unsafe sharing the space with others or are unable to stay because of no-pet policies.
Some cities have been trying out container-style accommodations, but Malcolm Page, the assistant director of homelessness at the Salvation Army, still felt as though these schemes have a lot of room for improvement, saying that “there’s a number of container-based solutions already, but I felt we needed to think about it a little bit more.”
He was envisioning a place for people to sleep that is clean and dry, but most importantly, safe. The Salvation Army partnered with service users and tech developers on a new design, and the result is the “nap pad.”
Nap pads are containers that offer homeless people a warm place to sleep but also track their vital signs. The nap pads are fitted with technology that scans the top of the bed to monitor the heartbeat and breathing of whoever is using the space. If either becomes irregular (or worse, stops) for 30 seconds, then an alarm goes off on the outside of the container, the doors unlock, and a call center contacts the emergency services.
Workers at the Salvation Army can control the pods remotely through an app that allows them to lock and unlock the pods and change the entry codes. These nap pads offer a solution that can stop hundreds of preventable deaths each year while also offering homeless people some stability in their lives.
“Maybe these pods would just encourage [homeless people] to come in from the cold and allow us to develop a relationship with the individual,” says Page. “That would allow them to move onto something more suited to their needs.”
The pods are also small in size which means they could be easily erected in several vacant small spaces across the nation.