How an engineer came up with a novel way to shelter the homeless


At night in the streets of the city of Alfortville, in the suburbs of Paris, a small shelter with an original shape sits next to a construction site. Inside, Christian, 58, is listening to a soccer match on his radio.

“This igloo is perfect, absolutely perfect!” he said while drinking a beer.

“I sometimes have to sleep without my jacket because it is so warm in here,” he joked.

Christian's igloo shelter is not your average camping tent.

Geoffroy de Reynal, a French engineer, designed his igloo-like shelters from Polyethylene foam, a material that can retain body heat. The shelters are covered in aluminum foil and “the temperatures inside the igloos are about 60 degrees Fahrenheit higher than outside. And it is also waterproof,” he explained.

De Reynal made his first igloos this winter with his own money. He then started an online crowd funding campaign for which he received around $20,000, much more than he expected.

“Using my resources and the money from the crowd funding campaign, I built 20 igloos prototypes this winter and distributed 10 in Bordeaux, and 10 additional in Paris,” he said.

He went on, “I was living abroad in Montenegro for a year, and there are not much people living outside there. When I came back to France, I was surprised by the number of homeless in the streets, so I decided to come up with an idea to help them.”

According to a study published in 2012 by The French National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies, the most recent data available, there are about 140,000 homeless people living in France, a 50 percent increase compared to 2001.

De Reynal does not see his igloos as a permanent solution.

“I am not trying to replace emergency accommodations,” he argued. “I am just trying to make life a bit less difficult for homeless people. Having one of these igloos does not mean that you are not a homeless anymore.”

Laurent Eyzat, president and founder of the organization Actionfroid, which helps homeless by giving them food, clothes, and now igloo shelters, said the feedback has been positive so far.

Océane and Benjamin, both 21, have been living for the past few months in the Bois de Vincennes, in the outskirts of Paris. There were given an igloo shelter about two weeks ago.

“It’s much easier to fall asleep at night, to wake up in the morning,” Océane said. “We have much better nights inside the igloo shelter.”

Her boyfriend, Benjamin, added that they feel much more secure inside their igloo. They put a tarpaulin over the igloo to protect it. “It’s very precious,” Océane exclaimed.

This winter was an experiment, and de Reynal already has many ideas for next year.

“My ambition is to produce these igloos on a large scale, hundreds or even thousands of them,” he said. “I also want to make some improvements: putting wheels under the igloos to make them easier to transport, or build larger modular igloos for families.”

He hopes French authorities will help him finance his very ambitious project.

What's the next part of his plan?

“Develop the igloos abroad. In countries like Poland, there are lots of people living in the streets. In the U.S., igloos could be very useful in cities such as Chicago that are very cold and snowy during the winter,” he said.

Paris officials did not respond to ABC News' repeated requests for comment.

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