Despite the biting cold and never ending winter weather well into March, many homeless are hesitant to head to shelters, fearing the rampant violence and disease in these temporary residences more than the freezing temperatures outside. Resorting to creative means of survival is therefore a necessity, and perhaps one of the more creative solutions is being offered by artist Michael Rakowitz.
The artist's deceptively cute inflatable structures, called paraSITE, are actually guerrilla shelters that symbiotically latch onto vents from HVAC systems. The captured air not only gives structure to the shelters, but also provides much-needed heat to those living within. Rakowitz has been making these ad-hoc homes for the past 17 years, customizing designs for the urban nomads he meets in myriad cities.
Costing no more than five dollars each, the structures are constructed from plastic attached with tape or heat sealer. Although the original designs were created from black garbage bags, the homeless voiced concern over safety due to lack of visibility, and so a more transparent plastic, often reclaimed from Ziploc bags, is now used instead.
“A project about architecture also became about portraiture,” Rakowitz told FastCo.Exist. “I attempted to give them some visibility and dignity.” Each shelter design conformed to the individual needs of the inhabitant, adding room and changing shape when needed. New York City’s policy, for instance, does not allow structures over a certain height in the streets, so Rakowitz conceived an 18-inch-high inflatable sleeping bag as an alternative. The homeless don't fail to see the humor in the inflatables—Rakowitz has received requests for shelters in the form of Jabba the Hut as well as a giant rib cage.
Having recently moved to Chicago, Rakowitz plans on setting up paraSITE shelters in the city next winter. In the meantime, he has launched the #OpSafeWinter group to bring survival information to those most in need.
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