Dan can wheel his home from Queen St. up to Pelham Park in 90 minutes.
He’s dubbed it the “Cramper,” a shed-like structure fashioned out of bits of lumber, insulation and corrugated plastic — with just enough room to fit a five-foot-seven adult.
Dan, who is currently homeless, constructed the mobile unit to serve as an alternative to shelter stays and begging friends for a place to sleep.
“This is not a solution to the problem of homelessness, but it’s a solution to my problem, today,” he said. He didn’t want to use his name because of the stigma attached to his precarious living situation.
Equipped with wheels, his home gives him the advantage of being able to haul it from one location to the next, where he can climb into the cramped living quarters of the unit. Drawing on his long experience with homelessness, Dan conceived the novel idea he hopes could provide temporary shelter for people with limited alternatives.
The Cramper — six feet long, three feet wide — is not just for show. Dan has slept in it several times since it was completed in December, including Tuesday night. Now, he’s ready to unveil it to the rest of the city.
The 62-year-old is bracing for public skepticism, because “there are a lot of grey areas around what the rules are,” he said. “Can I walk it down the road without breaking the rules?
“There is a lot of stigma associated to not having a permanent address.”
His concept was born from a desire for privacy and “the dignity you get from having a personal space,” he said.
“I’m a loner,” he said. “I don’t socialize well.”
These days, Dan does everything he can to avoid shelters, where dozens of people are packed into a room.
“You put me into a situation like that and I get stressed to the max,” he said of surviving in settings where verbal abuse can easily escalate into physical confrontations.
Dan often uses the Out of the Cold Program, a seasonal volunteer-run initiative that provides relief from the weather and rotates through churches, synagogues and temples across Toronto.
Coping with the wintry elements was factored into the Cramper’s design.
While it was -12 C outside the Cramper on Tuesday night, Dan said it hovered around 3 C. inside the mobile home, where he was able keep warm by snuggling into two sleeping blankets, on top of a thin foam mattress, which folds up to create room for storage underneath.
Dan can lie fully stretched inside the structure, which carries a portable toilet and heater. The floor is held together by pieces of an old aluminum ladder, while the frame is stitched together with two-by-two strips of lumber.
Protection from the cold is helped by buffering the roof, sides and flooring with rigid insulation. The exterior is shielded with corrugated plastic, which blocks out water and snow, while being a “lightweight shell, because this is pulled around by hand,” Dan said.
The Cramper is slated for official unveiling Thursday, at the Davenport-Perth Neighbourhood Centre. Dan gave the Star a sneak peek, and was quick to reveal one of his favourite features: it can be hauled by human power.
Dan has pulled the home, which sits on bicycle wheels, for up to an hour and a half, during a trip from Queen St. to the rear of the Pelham Park home where it’s currently housed.
Though new to Torontonians, Dan’s concept was inspired by a new approach gaining momentum in the U.S. Northwest. His handiwork was spurred by his discovery of the Conestoga Huts — 60 square feet of indoor living space, resembling and inspired by the shape of Conestoga Wagons — championed by Community Supported Shelters of Eugene, Ore.
Dan said he could produce a second version of the Cramper for about $600. “There are always things that can be adjusted or tweaked,” he noted.
Eugene has embraced the huts as an alternative to tents, said Erik de Buhr, creator of the huts and director at Community Supported Shelters. While huts can be a stop in the transition from homelessness, de Buhr said it can’t fix the housing crisis.
“I definitely don’t see it as a permanent solution,” de Buhr said. “We see it as a first step towards trying to find ways to integrate people into society.”
Eugene permits impromptu settlements of up to 20 huts on parking lots and six at churches. More than 80 huts have been constructed and distributed over seven years, and interest is growing, de Buhr said.
At $2,500 (U.S.), the huts funded by donations and built by volunteers are more durable and require a bit more investment than Dan’s concept. But they take aim at the same issue — the housing crisis gripping North America, de Buhr said. But he noted “we’re trying to prevent people from hauling their stuff around, so they don’t have to spend so many hours dealing with where they’re going to park tonight.”
Dan agrees with that argument, but “we have to start somewhere.”
His ingenuity is being lauded by a Toronto advocacy group.
“It says a lot about how the vast majority of people experiencing homelessness want secure, stable housing,” said Kira Heineck, executive lead of the Toronto Alliance to End Homelessness. “It speaks to the incredible need we have.”
She does have concerns.
“How can I deny someone who have found a better way to sleep at night,” she said. “But I would worry about how safe he may be.”
Jason Miller is a breaking news reporter based in Toronto. Reach him on email: email@example.com