Introduction: SHELLHOUSE - [living Portable]

Picture of SHELLHOUSE - [living Portable]

Collapsible cardboard shelters for homeless persons, using radio devices.
This is a work in progress that will provide of a house and an address to unsheltered homeless persons.
The more number of shelters we get, the more possible is to create an open network able to provide them of an address in the future.
By using recyclable material, and customizing what they already use, the idea is to build a collapsible construction with a radio device embeded it, that will transmit radio frequencies to a receiver, triggering audio samples of the person's name, age and place of origin.
In a not long future, is possible to have more alternatives of interfaces, so also interactions and a possible integration of this community.

For now been tested at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Manhattan, NY.

DiY for someone else.
Learn more in SHELLHOUSE.

total cost: $35

Step 1: Make the Cardboard Plate

Picture of Make the Cardboard Plate

Grabb cardboard from the streets or what you have at home. Complete a plate of 7,4 x 5,5f. If you put different sizes boxes, be sure to put the stripes along the same direction.
Complete the size however you can, putting them together with strong tape.

Step 2: Measures of the Fold

Picture of Measures of the Fold

Mark where you will fold.
Each fold has to be of 5,5 width.
Mark lines of this lenght accross the plate, following the stripes of the cardboard.
Try to use the folds that come with the box, remember to follow the stripes of the cardboard, after marking, folding will be in that direction always (accordion).

Step 3: Measure of the Center (cups)

Picture of Measure of the Center (cups)

Divide the cardboard plate in 2 halfs, by making a line in the middle, opposite to the lines you marked.
Then, from that line, mark 6" to each side. You will have three lines: center and 1 line in each side of it.
Use a sharp pen or pencil to mark the cardboard, this will make easier its folding.
Once this, mark crosses accross the middle line with the pen. The intersection point of the crosses will be done in the point where the crease goes up, the diagonals will go from line to line.

Step 4: Fold As an Accordion

Picture of Fold As an Accordion

Fold the lines you marked. As an accordion, one crease up, one crease down and so forth.

Step 5: Cut Crosses in the Middle

Picture of Cut Crosses in the Middle

Open the cardboard plate: you have the accordion shape and a fold in the middle, now is time to make half cuts in the crosses accross the middle line. Use a blade and a metallic ruler.

Step 6: Folding the Crosses

Picture of Folding the Crosses

Folding the crosses to make concavities or cups will be as follows: try to get someone to help you to keep one side tight keeping the shape of the accordion, while the other keeps on folding the other half.
Remember to make the accordion shape and while you go through it, the crosses will become cups, folded to the interior of the shape.

Step 7: Re-fold the Whole Shape/stripes

Picture of Re-fold the Whole Shape/stripes

You can put weights on top to keep the accordion shape, while you cut stripes of 5,5f by 5,5". This stripes will help the structure to remain stand-up. Take the shape and glue the stripes in each extreme.
The stripe will go from one side to the other. Use strong tape to glue them.

Step 8: Embed Radio Device

Picture of Embed Radio Device

Please go to get the step by step of how to set up the radio module.

Step 9: Give the Shelter to Homeless Person

Picture of Give the Shelter to Homeless Person

You had built the shelter, the radio device is ready.
You spent $35 in the whole experience, learned how to make something from used materials, got something about electronics...
Now please mail it to:

St. Francis of Assisi Church
135 West 31st Street
New York, NY 10001

Where the circuit you made, will be programmed and set to talk to hand held receiver


Cyberscann54 (author)2011-07-29

well I like the shelter idea but the whole radio communication thing is a little much and not cost effective not to mention the whole big brother thing a lot of homeless people choose to live that way just to get away from the system so making one and giving it away with out the person knowing what they are getting into is wrong but if they don't mind rfid is a lot simpler and cheaper say $0.50 not to mention no need for power and weatherproof an rf tag reader is easy to build and a simple web database for there info and your set. but if tracking location a PIC chip and a simple fm transmitter heck the PIC can broadcast there data in digital form and a simple program can decode it and a cheap solar light can power it.

If I wanted to spend $35 per person id get them a tent for $15 and spend the other $20 pimping it out solar lighting, alarm clock, fm radio, air bed and much much more between walmart and dollar tree they would have a place to call home

chrisre cat (author)2011-07-29

do you think you can coat it with that flex rubber spay

Uncle Kudzu (author)2011-07-29

This is how camera bellows are folded, IIRC.

cmduarte (author)2011-04-02

This would actually be more useful for emergency use, for instance following an earthquake or Tsunami. The radio aspect of it would provide a way for authorities to track family members for eventual re-uniting. Many people in Haiti are still living under tarps, pieces of cardboard, or salvaged tin sheeting. Relief workers are providing tents if the can get them. These shelters certainly would help those that are all alone or still separated from any surviving relatives, would probably work in Japan as well.

extremegtafan (author)2010-02-26

Seriously, what's up with the radio thing? What exactly is it's purpose?

medius (author)2010-02-08

Oh, and one more question. What is meant by 7,4 X 5,5 for the cardboard measurements? Please reply ASAP to the email already given below.

medius (author)2010-02-08

How much would this cost to make with out the portable reciever? If anyone has the answer please send it to

cozo (author)2009-10-07

Replace homeless people for adventurous middle-upper class adolescents and this will work nicely.

homeless people don't need this, wont use this and don't care about this. Homeless people need a family that cares for them, a health care system that considers them and a government that puts outs laws that protects and gives them opportunities to rise trough education.

Donneperth (author)2009-10-01

All things considered, a cheap tent and a 'space blanket', are lighter and more mobile than lugging around cardboard. I have lived on the streets. Its not something I would want to lug around with me.

You say: This is a long term goal, that haven't succeed, because of people not collaborating, finally.....c.

Who are the people not collaborating? The homeless? I think we would all appreciate some feedback from the homeless who have actually 'road tested' these shells.

I can see your point re the radio tagging, but realistically cant see them surviving long enough to be effective: theft water damage, wear n tear.

It is an indictment on USA politicians that this situation of homeless exists in the 'richest nation in the world'. What is the military budget again......?

davea0511 (author)2009-08-03

So why aren't there any hard-shell tents in the stores? I tell you why ... fabric tents are cheaper (even compared to cardboard) because they last, 100x more portable, and less humiliating than living in cardboard. Also ... funny no pictures of someone actually in it ... is that because the cardboard has to be exceptionally long to work? I think so. I mean the folds mean a 6 ft. person will need a 9ft. long piece of cardboard that when folded up will basically be huge and heavy, and when setup appears to practically touch all sides of the person. Big the big issue is that a piece of plastic in their pocket is nearly as good as this thing, and homeless people typically don't like hauling around a home -- thus the reason they're homeless - those that don't want to be homeless need a better solution than this. A MUCH better solution - like a tent or shelter with beds. You need to start thinking like a homeless person if you want to help them. This is a laudable, but failed effort. Sorry. Best of luck in rethinking how to really help them.

tubajoey1 (author)2009-07-31

Ever tried using corroplast? It is commonly used in the sign making business to make waterproof signs. Its like corrugated cardboard, but it is plastic. Thus, the plast part. I dont know if it would fold the same as cardboard, but with it coming in different thicknesses and sizes, it might work. Just a thought...

CybergothiChe (author)2009-05-27

This is so SWEET!

spylock (author)2008-02-23

I bought a nice new two person tent for $26.00,wouldnt it be better just to buy the tents?

kosmicslop (author)spylock2008-03-21

I was thinking the same thing at first but if they had $26 dollars then this wouldn't be necessary. While I understand that the intention is good, I'm worried about the whole radio tracking aspect. It's like homeless people are being asked to give up a certain level of self-determination simply because they don't have a roof over their head. Maybe the actual solution would be putting a real roof over their head. Because many homeless people are dealing with a myriad of issues that are exacerbated by the instability of homelessness our city practices a "housing first" approach that has actually been more effective and affordable than the shelter system.

spylock (author)kosmicslop2008-03-22

I agree,cities own vacant properties,that with minimal donations and work provided buy the the homeless could be fixed into pretty o.k. places to live,then with a actual adress some of the homeless could get jobs,and those that are unable to work could then receive other help,its hard to do much without an adress.

Maverchick (author)spylock2009-04-13

I've always thought along the same line. The whole thing makes me sad.

Karikaru (author)2009-03-24

For $35 couldn't you just buy a tarp and create a water tight shelter with some rope and possibly some pvc or wood? Sure it wouldn't be as cute, but it would keep rain off and would probably take a lot less labor or design time.

Thelonelysandwitch (author)2009-02-27

Ok, even though cardboard isn't very waterproof, in a light drizzle (cardboard will hold up against that, i know) the cups will catch water and leak horribly. it is a nice design though.

jtmax24 (author)2009-01-14

interesting idea, I don't really know about the radio controller That step seems pointless. You probably be better off in making this shelter and giving the homeless person a TRACPHONE. Heck, they're only $10 and have $10 cards now.

mollypierucci (author)2007-08-21

this is ridiculous and pointless and will never work. it is, however, cute...

anna_2008 (author)mollypierucci2008-05-22

Molly, I sincerely hope you never find yourself in a position where you wish you had copied these instructions and kept in your wallet. With global unrest the way it is, no amount of money or fame, or family or corporate planning, will protect ordinary people from what is clearly coming down. The homeless are the true heroes, by choice or not, they are going ahead and showing the way. As for St. Francis of Assissi - NYC tried to shut down their homeless programs, truly the most humane in the country. 'Cuz "homeless" didn't look good to tourists. How bogus is that? Karmic rules say folks will pay dearly for lack of compassion and real values. SHELLHOUSE folks - the only concern I have is the database you are collecting falling into the wrong hands of the jackboots.

mollypierucci (author)anna_20082008-06-20

right- you dont know me, nor do you know the situations i have been in. homeless people are not heroes, certainly some of them are in situations they cannot control, but i can tell you for sure that most of the homeless in my city are drunks and junkies, and choose to live that way- i pay taxes to help them kick their habits and they choose not to take advantage of the treatment and job placement assistance that the government provides. all i was saying is that the little shells are cute, but they dont do anything to solve the bigger issue. i said they were cute! sheesh... cool to see someone get so passionate about something, though.

jtmax24 (author)mollypierucci2009-01-14

drunks and junkies are different from the truly homeless. Great that you pay taxes to help the homeless. Did you ever stop to think that most homeless don't know that YOU personally have paid taxes to help them, so why don't you go out and tell them. Most likely radio-controlling the homeless will never happen, but the idea of the cardboard shelter is a pretty neat. Even though in order to help you would have to find the homeless person and show them how to build this, because most likely they won't have excess to

mollypierucci (author)anna_20082008-05-22

haha.. been there, done that, worked my way up baby. i wasnt being mean to homeless, i just think that a more substantial solution would be better. why not create more welfare to work programs so that people dont have to live in these shelters? if i ever find myself in that situation, god forbid, i hope i can at least find a tent or something to protect myself from the rain!

chuckr44 (author)mollypierucci2008-06-27

Some of the homeless are mentally ill, some are poorly trained, perhaps high school dropouts, some are junkies, it's true. In the 1980s in Michigan, they (the state gov't) shut down the public, state-run, mental institutions, and put the mentals on the street. That's where we get a lot of our homeless. Plus the auto and furniture industry layoffs add to the problem. So, in some cases, jobs will fix the root problem, in other cases, drugs for mental illness (very expensive for the most part) will solve the root issue. And in the case of junkies, I don't see how anyone can help them since the will to quit must come from themselves, not an outside source.

dombeef (author)anna_20082008-06-19


Grey_Wolfe (author)mollypierucci2008-05-20

I would disagree, at least it provides some shelter against the wind. Though it'd need to be staked down in windier areas. Any measure of cover is better than none at all. he homeless have been making shelters out of cardboard (both simpler and more complex) for decades, if they're still doing it, it must be working out farely well. It does need some work, many great ideas previously mentioned would add in it's efficacy. Some consideration of individual climates most be put in as well, I believe. It is cute though. lol ;-P

Lego man (author)2008-03-17

Why don't you add a plastic bag roof or a Plastic bag fabric roof so if it rains your house doesn't become a heap of soggy cardboard. Just a thought, great instructable!

JamesRPatrick (author)Lego man2008-05-04

Or buy a three dollar can of spray sealant/waterproof paint.

Lego man (author)JamesRPatrick2008-05-04

True, actually now that you said that it sounds like a pretty good idea.

Ora (author)Lego man2008-07-01

But wouldn't the folding and unfolding over and over crack the seal in the paint?

Lego man (author)Ora2008-07-01

unfortunately, yes. Most kinds will.

Ora (author)Lego man2008-07-01

Could you put packing tape on the joints to keep them waterproof?

JamesRPatrick (author)Ora2008-07-15

Good idea. Or.........DUCT TAPE!

Billboard signs are waterproof and are huuuuge. They would be perfect to somehow cover the cardboard and another great reuse. They wouldn't crack.

How/where would you obtain them? I don't have billboards where I live, so I don't know what happens when they change ads.

That's a good question. I have no idea. I guess you'd have to call the local ad agency who is in charge of putting them up. In your case, there might not be one...but for others in city areas it should be pretty easy.

John Bryans Fontaine (author)2007-10-04

Possibly these shellhouses could be used in conjunction with Ozark Trail Emergency Blankets, found at Walmart for $2.00. These are 52 x 84 inch mylar blankets that keep body heat in and are water-proof.

And rip easily. I've used one.

junaskenderi (author)chuckr442008-08-19

Well it's Wall-Mart. Little children made them. You can't expect perfection now can you?

akagoldminer (author)2008-07-26

ok for the waterproofing why not recycle all theese corrugated polastic political signs that i see all over the place. verry durable and waterproof. and still basicly the same as cardboard only plastic. i also agree with the thumb drive idea as well. also make an overlaping flap style doorwayand back. as for design check out a two-man military tent. two pieces and would fold pretty easily.

Chewy1993 (author)2008-07-21

Instead of the radios, why not just provide them with a flash drive that contains their info. Give the church a PDA with usb compatibilities (relatively cheap now(less than $100, mobile pro 900c)). The data would be in text form (easier to compress). To me that would seem easier, and much more cheaper on a large scale. USB drives are practically industructable to weather, and everyday use.

daveleb55 (author)2008-07-11

This is the single stupidest thing I've ever seen! Radio collaring the homeless? You've got to be joking! Portable cardboard shelters? Why not design a way to turn a shopping cart and a bunch of cans into a mansion?! AND; I honestly don't see the point of the "radio" bit. Tattooing a bar code to their foreheads would make more sense than a short range radio signal. Signal to who? The church? If your church truly cared about the homeless, you would throw open your doors and invite them all in. The churches in this country have a tax exempt status because of the supposed "good works" they do. So helping the homeless is a noble and worthy cause, but this is ridiculous. If you want the homeless to have an address, use this one: St. Francis of Assisi Church 135 West 31st Street New York, NY 10001 Duh.

carolinapino (author)2008-05-22

To Molly and Anna, I can't see your comments here, but I read them anyway. Thanks for taking the time. I'm currently working on a better design, if I get it finally, there won't be problems with rain, wind or any other. Overall, my idea is to customize the tech part, so they can really have a portable address that doesn't depend on distance range. This is a long term goal, that haven't succeed, because of people not collaborating, finally.....c.

MisterMissanthrope (author)2008-03-24

Its a good idea for easy shelter, i mean cardboards eveywhere so you dont really need to buy one, it looks like itd be a good wind breaker but it doesnt effecently pervent massive heat loss. Most heat is going to get sucked into the ground, the most effecient shelter is one that is elevated

drummonkey92 (author)2008-02-16

i agree with u with regards to the 'lazyness' completely. if they cant be bothered to work then they dont deserve the benefits hard-working individuals have. i'm from the uk and decades ago the system for 'vagrants' was that they were offered 3 jobs, if they didnt accept any then they wer left to their own devices.personaly, i think this system could work today and would probably make the country better in your second point you mentioned about welfare, im not sure how it works in the states, but here, you can't apply for government benefits unless you have a fixed adress. this is a problem that the instructable could help.

nomadtent (author)2007-12-28

Hello, I really like the concept and would like to build one. I have a friendly suggestion for you. There is a product used in the sign industry called "Coroplast" and it is an expensive solution for temporary sign work and it is made of corrugated plastic very much like cardboard and can be scored and folded in the same manner but would be totally water proof. If you were to buy it directly from a sign supply company it would be cheaper still. I would also like to see this design with a floor and enclosures at each end. Perhaps some type of air vent. I really like the reflective mylar idea for an inner wall someone mentioned, this could be an important emergency shelter. Thanks for sharing this wonderful concept. :)

nomadtent (author)nomadtent2007-12-28

Whoops, I meant to say, There is a product used in the sign industry called "Coroplast" and it is an "inexpensive" solution for temporary sign work. It would work like cardboard in that it can be scored and folded. It also could be glued at the seams. They usually come in 4' X 8' sheets and usually are around $10 a sheet. It would be nice to see if there is a way to put in an attached (tub style) floor and folding doors to keep the weather out. Reflectorized mylar The silver stuff) on the inside would help radiate body heat back towards the occupant. :)

Mr Mild Mannered (author)2007-12-28

Hmmmm... I think that I have seen this before.... Anyway, Great instructable, I may go and build myself one for the next time I go hitchhiking.

carolinapino (author)2007-12-16

hay macrumpton, thanks for the advice, i will try this pattern and see if i can upload a newer-better version, depending on how it works. Can I use this pattern, right? THANKS!

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