An Innovative Step in Tackling NYC’s Homelessness

Sustainability Problem: Rise in Homelessness  

New York’s state constitution says that “the aid, care and support of the needy are public concerns and shall be provided by the state and by such of its subdivisions.”  And yet homelessness is a growing concern, increasing by 35% in the last 5 years.  A significant rise in rents (18%) and only a minimal increase in income (5%) have largely contributed to this growing concern.

The first step in eradicating homelessness is to provide people in this situation with proper housing.  Knowing that they have a roof over their heads can help these people focus their energy on the other much needed efforts to move out of homelessness.  In fact this is also the solution according to the Coalition for the Homeless.

Sustainability Technology: 3D printed modular units

Oslo and a NYC-based design firm Farmlab has proposed an innovative idea to tackle this problem.  They came up with Homed, which involves hexagonal-shaped, single-person units that came be attached onto empty walls on buildings – which the firm calls “vertical lots”.  This can be a reasonable solution to the overcrowded and transitional shelter problem that many homeless people face on a daily basis.

According to Farmlab, The prefabricated units would be attached to and be accessible via a scaffolding that would rise up alongside windowless, empty building walls, and could be easily disassembled, if needed. The units would come with an outer aluminium shell, and interior walls 3D printed from recycled polycarbonate. Smart-glass (electrochromic glass) windows would help to shade or light the unit’s interior as needed, while providing a view for inhabitants, in addition to providing advertising opportunities for sponsors.  Inhabitants can also design their spaces according to their preference and their furnishings can also be 3D printed using bioplastics.  Additional, bathing and communal units can also be added as needed.

Also considering that these are individual units, more people will be comfortable taking advantage of this type of housing opportunity, unlike in shelters where safety, security, and stealing are major concerns.  These units can also be assembled, expanded, and disassembled fairly quickly.  The utilization of scaffolding as super structure for the system is the crux of the solution, as it allows the city to use land that would be too difficult and expensive to develop. Homed puts these individuals on the right path to overcome their hardship and does so by providing them with a supportive and improved life.

Low income housing is needed, but lack of land and increased land costs are major hurdles to overcome for the city.  Currently NYC’s Dept. of Homeless Service has an operating budget of $955.3M, clearly showing the depth of the city’s financial burden in regards to homelessness.  Throwing more money at the problem is not the answer, but innovative solutions in addition to helpful/alternative policies can do much to help the homeless more effectively and efficiently.

“New York has record numbers of homeless people” The Economist, 3/23/2017,
“3D printed modular units for the homeless would use under-utilized vertical walls” TreeHugger, Kimberly Mok, 11/22//17,
“State of Homelessness 2017 Rejecting Low Expectations: Housing is the Answer”, Colalition for the Homeless, March 2017,


  • Homeless people
  • NGOs dedicated to helping the homeless
  • City officials looking to reduce homelessness
  • NYC residents

Technology Implementation & Distribution:

Build out these 3D pods and test their safety and quality before any use.

Then engage city officials by showcasing the benefits of such a housing project.  Ask them to provide a test area to assemble these units.

Encourage discussions with the Dept. of Homeless Service to have a group of people test out this new housing development and ask them to provide feedback.

Upon proven success, seek support to implement this on a larger scale.  Continue the monitoring and feedback mechanism to ensure that all needs and concerns are met.

By: Bhoomi Shah UNI: brs2147


Comment on “Floating Cities” by VishantKothari

The idea is to build these communities in safe/sheltered waters and provide aquaculture farms, healthcare, medical research facilities, and sustainable energy powerhouses.  The first city would be built on a network of 11 rectangular and five-sided platforms so the city could be rearranged according to its inhabitants’ needs like a floating jigsaw.  A feasibility report by Dutch engineering firm Deltasync says the square and pentagon platforms would measure 164ft (50metres) in length and they would have 164 ft-tall (50 metre) sides to protect buildings and residents.

I think this is a great solution to the planet’s climate change problem.  Water is going to be a major concern for many at risk areas (i.e. the Polynesian islands) when it comes to housing and if we can work with this element rather than fight it, survival is more likely.


I don’t have any change but I want Change: contactless payment for homeless donations

Problem: Cities around the world have a growing homeless population who survive on donations from passers-by. In many cases, these donations are used for drugs or alcohol rather than for basic necessities like food and clothing, sparking debate between those who donate their change to the homeless, and those who do not. The homelessness problem encompasses civic engagement, health and safety, waste management and a host of other sustainability problems. For those who do donate, it is become less common to carry cash meaning that often they would like to donate change, but do not have any on them.

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Solution: ‘Helping Heart’ contactless payment jacket

  • An Amsterdam-based company, N=5, has come up with the concept to make homeless donations more feasible in a modern city, but also to monitor their use.
  • The jacket has an in-built contactless payment reader and LCD screen, set to a cap of EUR 1 per donation.
  • The wearer can then redeem the value of the donations from participating stores and shelters in the form of food, clothing, shelter and other essentials.
  • There are also options to direct payments towards vocational training courses and savings.


  • Helping Heart is designed specially for homeless donations, but the concept of contactless donations could be used as part of numerous charity fundraising initiatives.
  • The technology would be used by the homeless, by participating donors, by shelters and by representatives of charities hoping to raise funds.

Steps to Deployment: 

  1. Identify and organize various organizations willing to participate, namely shelters, banks, supermarkets, restaurants, clothing stores or community centers.
  2. Distribute jackets to homeless people around the city. Include an explanation or training for the wearers on how the technology works, and what they are entitled to.
  3. Invest in marketing for city dwellers to know that this is a donation option and that donations will be used for legitimate purchases of necessities, to incentivize donation.

ArticleIs ‘tap and go’ a better way to give to charity?

Company Case Film: N=5, Helping Heart

Comment on “Extinguish a Fire with Low-Frequency Sound Waves” 

The point on incorporating the technology into “swarm robotics” is a fascinating now, with an army of waterless fire-fighting drones ready to be launched at a larger-scale fire. In London, the recent Grenfell Tower fire was incredibly devastating due to the high-rise nature of the building and although many people were saved on the lower levels, firemen could not reach the higher levels fast enough. Drones would have the ability to fight the fire from above, possibly in unison with firefighters working from below, and devices like the sonic extinguisher are light enough (possibly not yet, but in later models) that this could become a reality.

This lightweight capability also makes these extinguishers possible for vehicles or airplanes, where weight is a consideration, or even in schools etc. where children would struggle to lift a fire extinguisher if required to.

An additional point is the concern over the high-heat, as the sonic extinguishers currently have no cooling system of their own, which would add weight and expense, and is a design capability that needs to be established.