Introduction: Card Beds for Homeless People

Picture of Card Beds for Homeless People

I designed this bed so that homeless people can have a more comfortable night's sleep. As it raises them off the ground and is made from a material that doesn't conduct heat or cold and is sturdy, it makes a large difference to the difficulties of being homeless.

Step 1: The Plans and Materials

Picture of The Plans and Materials

The only material you need is large pieces of card that are at least two layers thick. The largest piece measures 83 x 60cm so you need to look for large boxes, which are more likely to be found in bins where businesses have large items delivered, such as furniture shops.

There are eleven pieces needed in total and you can see how they need to be measured and cut in these plans.

It has been designed so that it will be big enough for one person but also small enough to be transportable when disassembled.

It is important to get properly strong cardboard as it has been found to weaken due to re-assembly and dis-assembly. The ideal type would be 3-layered card or card that you can tell is much more rigid. The other thing is that it needs to be assembled and disassembled carefully so as not to bend the card.

To do the cutting, all you need is a sharp craft knife, a pair of scissors for back up and a large board to cut on where it doesn't matter if you scratch it (I salvaged one from a discarded kitchen).

The upper section has four pieces, the base has three plus four supports to ensure stability and long life.

Try to find a large plastic bag to put all the pieces in and a long piece of string to wrap it up and create the handle for carrying (see later).

Note the direction of the lines in the card. It is important that you position them this way so that each vertical piece will have all the card lines vertical as well, which is necessary for stability.

There is also the assembly instructions sheet that you can print out to give to the users of the beds.

Step 2: How to Cut the Pieces

Picture of How to Cut the Pieces

It's pretty straightforward as you would imagine. Measure and mark the parts that need to be cut as shown on the plans. Cut out the whole pieces and before you cut the slots out, it's best to make the bends where they are needed.

To do this, all you need is a plank of wood that you press onto the line where the fold is needed and pull up the card carefully from one side and it should bend easily. Make sure you bend it just over 90º so that it will slot into the other pieces without having to force it (as this can damage the card).

After you've made these folds, use the craft knife to cut out the slots. It can sometimes be difficult to do this without the card being damaged a little so you first, push the blade right through the card where the slot ends (i.e. not from the edge of the card but the other end). If it doesn't cut through smoothly, use an up and down motion like you are carving. If it still doesn't go well, you can finish it off with the scissors. It is important to keep the card as undamaged as possible so that it lasts longer.

The image shows all the pieces as they are cut and folded, and how much space they take up when put into a plastic bag to keep dry.

Step 3: How to Put It Together

Picture of How to Put It Together

Assembly should take no more than 5 minutes and only has four steps.

1: Take the 'base ends' and the 'base end supports' and slot them together as shown. As they are perpendicular, this makes them unlikely to move or bend.

2: Take the 'upper ends' and first put the end that curls over in first, then the part that goes through the large slot. This order reduces the chance of damaging the card.

3: Get the 'base middle' and put it between the two ends with the small slots facing outwards. Put in the two base supports as shown in the 4th photo.

4: Slot the middle pieces into the base middle as well as the same slot on the end pieces.

That is all that is needed. As there are four upper pieces and three base pieces, they overlap which joins the whole bed together and makes it more stable.

Step 4: A Few Other Views of It

Picture of A Few Other Views of It

Just so you can see how it all fits together, you can see the underside, the long side and the end. See the notes for more details on what makes it work.

Another option for helping to keep the bottom edges dry is to seal them with plastic tape, like good quality packing tape. This will help it last longer if the ground is wet.

Step 5: Testing It Out

Picture of Testing It Out

As long as the card you have used is good quality and thick enough, you can lie on it without needing to be too careful. I weigh around 65kg or 10 stone but it could support someone up to at least 50% heavier.

To make sure it lasts for the user, they should sleep under a covered area if possible to prevent it getting wet or they/ you can find large plastic bags (from shops) that can wrap around it in a similar way to a bed sheet.

You will find that there is no movement in the bed so the user can turn over easily.

During the daytime, a seat can also be formed by just making one of the end pieces.

The bed can be made in around one hour, assembles in five minutes and is completely free. I hope that you will make some for homeless people in your area. If you can't find anyone, contact a homeless support centre (it may be a soup kitchen at the church) and get some help from them. You could possibly ask the service users to help look for card and make them together at the venue.

These can also be used for refugees so ask at the refugee/ migrant centre if there's one in your town.

If any of the pieces get damaged, it's very simple to replace them and can be done in 5 minutes for free.

Please watch the video and share it. We can easily make the nights of homeless people a lot more bearable.

Step 6: Storing It in a Bag

Picture of Storing It in a Bag

When it's disassembled, the user will want to be able to carry it around easily.

A strong plastic bag is ideal and you can find these from something that is part of the packaging of a large item such as a mirror or a picture.

To keep it together and to have a handle for it, either use a piece of string or even better, a softer material such as a cotton strip that won't cut into the fingers as much.

To fasten it, put the bag of pieces on the ground, put the string under it with the ends of the string coming out each side. Bring it over the front and cross it over so it then goes at 90º over the other edges.

Then flip it over and tie it so that the other part of the string that you see is also trapped in the knot.

This knot is then the handle as the whole thing is too big to fit under the arm. As it is card, it weighs less than a bag of sugar.

Please watch the video to see how it's put together and also the story from two people who tried it out.


nineurea (author)2016-09-20

After seeing the video several times I got the pieces and where they go more clear

nineurea (author)2016-09-20

I got lost with all these "ends" and "bases". I think the pictures misled me as the bed seems HUUUGE. I cannot imagine which piece is what (base, top base, end middle, end base,....) so not get in my mind how pieces are assembled, in special how the 3 parts are joined. Do not see the "link" piece, base or top. Sorry but my spatial comprehension is borderlining idiocy

kdickey110 (author)2016-04-07

If anyone has done this, how easy are these to transport? What kind of "packaging" did you put them in?

Elliot Lord (author)kdickey1102016-04-08

Hi. Pretty easy as they are designed as flat pack. You need big plastic bags or sheets to keep them dry, which can double up as protection from the rain when they're being used.

Elliot Lord (author)Elliot Lord2016-04-08

Thank you! Are you thinking of making them?

kdickey110 (author)Elliot Lord2016-04-08

Thanks! This is awesome!

Illfixit_2016 (author)2016-02-20

Having been one of the millions of homeless here in Orange County California, my husband and I fashioned something similar and found it quite comfortable. Though after about a week we would have to make another one. Still well worth it.

Hi. I'm glad to hear you had a go at making one. Maybe you'd need to source thicker card to make it last longer but thank for your feedback. :)

RogerM34 (author)2015-11-27

Hi. I run a games company. We have lots of spare cardboard. We're going to make some beds here but if anyone wants a big wedge of cardboard, I'm happy to send it to them. Thanks. Roger

Elliot Lord (author)RogerM342015-11-27

Hi Roger. You'd best say where you are based. Thanks for offering to help. :)

KevinJ59 (author)2015-11-25

Hi. I am a deacon at Romford Baptist Church and think this is an absolutely brilliant idea. I will be getting a team together very soon and creating a workshop for the homeless to build their own beds, have some lunch and pray. Thank you so much for sharing this idea and leaving enough detail for others to follow you in serving our respective communities. I chuckle at some of the ridiculous comments below and wonder what on earth they were doing looking at this in the first place with such poor attitudes towards it. May good bless you and your team for all you are doing.


Elliot Lord (author)KevinJ592015-11-26

That's great to hear you plan to get started on these. I'd really love it if you kept in touch so we can see how you're doing. Either email us at or follow the facebook page

CorgiCritter (author)2015-09-16

No offense, but is this a joke? Is the idea to be funny? In less homeless people have computers, how would they read this? Perhaps you hand them out or something?

Kreat0r (author)CorgiCritter2015-11-21

it s so we can make one and give it to them .

Elliot Lord (author)CorgiCritter2015-09-16

Ha ha, another person who makes their conclusion without reading first. :D

CorgiCritter (author)Elliot Lord2015-09-16

I did read it, but I guess I wasn't reading closely enough. So the idea is to hand them out, right?

Elliot Lord (author)CorgiCritter2015-09-16

Yeah, you know, homeless services? How homeless people are supported by charities and volunteers?

CorgiCritter (author)Elliot Lord2015-09-16

OK, I think I understand. I do think the design is pretty clever.

Elliot Lord (author)2015-10-03

The latest news on this is that I won a competition in Birmingham for something that will benefit the people of the city and it has brought a huge amount of praise and people who want to help make this happen. It was an amazing response and I'm confident that we can make this become the norm before too long. :)

Elliot Lord (author)2015-09-15

Thanks to everyone who voted for this in the Safety contest. I got a runner-up prize. The latest news is that I'm working with a homeless group in my area and we're organising how we're going to get these made for everyone who is homeless in my city (around 10 to 15 people) and in Birmingham (35-40). Those are attainable numbers so when we get all of them catered for, hopefully it will take off around the country and beyond. :)

PeterT22 (author)2015-09-14

Awesome design, and made totally from free waste materials for a good cause.... way to be!

Also, it's a great idea for camping, when you're done, just throw it in the fire, one less thing to have to drag home. I was thinking about buying a cot for Burning Man next year, but now I'm gonna bring one of these and save money instead, thanks!

Elliot Lord (author)PeterT222015-09-15

Thank you. Yes, it can be used for camping, too as long as they are not sold to anyone else.

designertiff (author)2015-09-06

this is a great idea, not just for the homeless. I like that it repurposed cardboard, which can be found just about anywhere. I used to live in Seattle, where there is a large homeless population. These raised beds could be really helpful, as the ground is often damp.

ClayOgre (author)designertiff2015-09-07

However, one wonders how well damp ground and cardboard will mix. I remember seeing something somewhere about banana boxes being waxed or coated to make them waterproof and because of that, they could not be recycled. If that is the case, wonder how they would work for something like this.

PeterT22 (author)ClayOgre2015-09-14

That issue could probably be solved by packing tape covering the parts that get wet, or even the whole thing to make it more permanent.

Elliot Lord (author)PeterT222015-09-15

Exactly, which is what I recommend in the I'ble... It's helpful when people read first... ;)

foobear (author)2015-09-13

Very nice idea. Looks like it could be adapted to become some kind of portable work table too if you could devise taller legs for it.

cammers (author)2015-09-06

Great work.
A good solution to a common problem, and a great way to get a lot of practical and resourceful people thinking about more solutions.
In a time when businesses are employing spikes and irrigation to deter homeless people we need to come up with more ways to help.
Maybe Instructables could offer some contests aimed at helping out the less fortunate in our societies. Our community of makers could really make a big difference.

Elliot Lord (author)cammers2015-09-06

Thank you. Yes, I've said that these beds can actually be placed on the spikes as they wouldn't have any effect! That would hopefully shame the people who decided to put the spikes there. :)

landrovermanuk (author)2015-09-05

Great idea. With funding people could cover the cardboard with a thin film or a paint it with some type of waterproofing to increase longevity...

True. That is an option if funding was found. I am already due to meet with a homeless charity in a couple of days to discuss making these on a larger scale. I will update people on its development but am also more than happy for other people to make them and experiment with such ideas as yours.

frankmci (author)2015-09-05

I think this is a great idea. However, I think it may be too complicated for many folks in the real world. I think for this idea to have a big impact, it needs to be easily constructed by the end user. Those of us who make things often take for granted the skills we have acquired over many years. For instance, my dad would never be able to make a cardboard bed like this one on his own. I'd suggest simplifying the design to a single, simple unit that's maybe 10 cm square and a meter wide that can be duplicated and hooked together in a row for any desired length. Add one more layer of cardboard over the whole assembly to smooth it out.

It's wonderful that you are putting time and effort into a project like this!

Elliot Lord (author)frankmci2015-09-05

Thanks but it's actually very simple. You cut our the pieces of card to the size needed, fold in a couple of places then cut the slots as measured. That's it.

A simple unit cannot be done because it would be highly unlikely you'd find a piece of card that big and it would make transporting it impossible.

Once you've done one successfully, the rest will be a breeze. Plus with your suggestions, it wouldn't be stable in any way and that's why it's designed like it is. I am 100% happy with this design and people who have used it say the same.

LifeWarrior (author)2015-09-05

I like projects that meant to be used, I don't care about pretty bows on a project or pasting paper mustaches to posters. I don't agree with the other comment that it's impractical, in fact with all the bull sh *! shows about surviving in some ridiculous jungle somewhere in a TEOTWAWKI situation, how many of us would actually be in a jungle. I think this project has good merit, It's a step in the right direction, in reality I'd like to see more projects that deal with urban survival like this, it might spark a better solution to help the homeless. While someone could nitpick flaws in the design, As a builder I'd constantly be looking for way to improve and expand on it, but overall it's an excellent idea and good write up!

TiaRiaa (author)2015-09-05

you are welcome!! :) :D

adamn8 (author)2015-09-04

Very clever idea. I knew how cold it was sleeping on the ground outside. In my country, the cardboard can be selled although it was torned, ripped. So it is reusable and re sell able. :-D ( sorry for my spelling)

Elliot Lord (author)adamn82015-09-05

Thank you. It is true that the card can be damaged but it is still free to replace any part or all of it. :)

TiaRiaa (author)2015-09-04

this is great i voted for you on the survival contest !

it would help the homeless people . you are great at this . how about you can help the poor people

Elliot Lord (author)TiaRiaa2015-09-05

Thank you for that. It's very kind.

larry03052 (author)2015-09-04

Ingenious but impractical for two reasons: 1) not waterproof, 2) too big and clumsy to carry around. What homeless people need more than anything else, including furniture, is a place to live. Until society stops creating them with such wild abandon and enthusiasm, they will continue to be a "problem".

I used to live in Sag Harbor. They built a really nice set of public showers so Steven Spielberg and his friends could grab a quickie shower after leaving their yacht and on their way out to dinner. But they didn't use it, they complained about the homeless people in there taking up stalls, washing their clothes in the sinks, and so on, the usual homeless activities that annoy everyone so much. So they closed it. Nailed the doors shut and turned off the water. I guess dirty, scruffy homeless people were more acceptable to the jet-set than clean, neatly-dressed ones were. Yeah, New York really does care about the homeless. It cares whenever they get in the way, the useless ingrates...

No smiley.

Elliot Lord (author)larry030522015-09-04

Sorry, you're wrong. I've carefully considered everything and like I say (critics don't read everything first), there are two solutions to the rain aspect - I won't repeat them again.

And it is designed to flatpack and fit into a bag which weighs less than 1kg. This is not meant to be a solution to homelessness, but a solution to the cold and pain from sleeping on the ground. I recommend you read things through first because one looks stupid when their complaints have been answered before they state them.

Linkin_J_Knex (author)2015-09-04

very clever idea:-) usually I stick to k'nex 'ibles however this one caught my attention due to how nice it seems:-)

Thank you. Please help to share it!

I voted it into all 3 competitions:-) check out my first Instructable: D

I tip my hat to you!

ashleyjlong (author)2015-09-04

This is a really great use of something most people just throw away. Do you have any plans to see about getting these distributed in your community? It feels like the kind of thing the people on Shark Tank ought to fund! A lot of people on the streets could benefit from it.

Elliot Lord (author)ashleyjlong2015-09-04

Thank you. I'm collaborating with a church that feeds homeless and low income people to produce more that they can give away.
It's not actually something that needs funding as the idea is that it is free to make, just by using old boxes, etc. It just needs people who want to help out.

ashleyjlong (author)Elliot Lord2015-09-04

Sounds great! I suppose I only mentioned funding framed within the idea of making a TON of them by hiring staff to assemble them or mechanizing the cutting process to make more pieces faster, not necessarily for cost of materials. On a larger scale like that, it could have a cyclical effect in that producing them could create jobs for low income folks. There's a jewelry company in Detroit that makes one of a kind "stones" out of old graffiti chips and they're staffed entirely by women who were otherwise having trouble finding work. I'm glad you have a volunteer base to bring this to your immediate community.

Elliot Lord (author)ashleyjlong2015-09-04

I understand your point and if people want to do that, then perfect!

I'm more than happy for people to use this idea in different ways as long as they are only given away for free. I appreciate your ideas. :)

punkgirl (author)2015-09-04

This is a such a clever idea, and so easy for people who don't know how or where to start helping.
Here in Australia we have some great charities manufacturing and distributing swags (essentially a tent and mattress made from canvas, for those who don't know) for homeless people. The charities are award winning for the help they provide and these swags have been proven to save lives.
This is a great step in the right direction, thank you for sharing!

About This Instructable




Bio: I work voluntarily to help develop the community where I live. I like to explore new areas and experiment with making things myself. I am ... More »
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