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'A bed for every head': Albany man designs 'Sleep Trailer' for emergency shelter

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Jason Christensen of Albany was on his way to work in Salem one day when he saw a man sleeping outside under the overhang of the roof of a business.

Sadness and frustration filled him. It's just so degrading that we just drive past a fellow human and not do anything about it, he recalled thinking.

And then he had another thought. Wait. I'm driving past and not doing anything about it.

So Christensen decided to do something about it.

Five years later, the result, Sleep Trailer, is now complete and ready for unveiling. The product's motto: "A bed for every head."

Inspired by the cubbylike hotels Japan uses for traveling business representatives, Christensen designed a trailer with eight cubicles, each 8 feet long, 4 feet wide and 4 feet high.

Each cubicle has a locking door, a screened window, a sleeping pad, a clock and a combination smoke and carbon monoxide detector. There's enough room for at least one person to sleep inside — maybe two, if you squeeze — and you could probably fit a pet alongside as well.

"A lot of homeless individuals have pets, so this would be a great solution to that," Christensen said.

He has a fan so far in Mayor Alex Johnson II, who has invited Christensen to present his invention to the Albany City Council at its meeting Wednesday, Aug. 25.

"He has a great vision," Johnson said. "I want to feed his passion."

Christensen doesn't work in the manufacturing business. He writes behavior support plans for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities for Tandem Northwest, a Salem home health care service.

But to really make a difference to people who might otherwise find themselves sleeping under a business overhang, he wanted to concentrate on providing a secure, short-term place out of the elements where people could both sleep and safely leave their belongings.

When a person has no home, it's hard to go to work, take a class or even schedule a job interview, he said. Anything you have, you carry with you so you can keep it. Many people experiencing homelessness are afraid to sleep at night.

"That's just kind of the reality we deal with," Christensen said.

It took time to find someone who would share his vision. Most facilities, he said, nodded and sent him on his way.

But late in 2020, Joseph Babcock,co-owner and president of 20 TWENTY Sustainable Manufacturing in Salem, listened to Christensen and introduced him to the firm's design team. The bright blue prototype the team built from his concept drawing was unveiled last month and now waits to be trucked to its first location.

"When I first met Jason, it was passion and determination from the get-go," said Babcock, whose firm makes tiny homes and accessory dwelling units, among other micro-structures. "The finished product is truly unique and we will continue to work with Jason to refine his project."

Babcock is working with Christensen to try to interest city governments in the project. So far, he said, only Albany has taken notice, but he's continuing to send out information.

Christensen envisions the Sleep Trailers being available for lease: to businesses, nonprofits, government organizations, churches, existing shelters, anyone who wants to help.

His website, sleeptrailer.com, offers a $10 per month subscription for people who are interested in helping with manufacturing costs. Once placed somewhere, he said, it would be up to the leasing organization how — or whether — to charge for their use, and how long to let people stay.

The idea is to provide short-term respite, Christensen stressed. The pods have windows and vents but don't have electricity, heating or air conditioning and wouldn't be comfortable for long-term living.

"True to its name, this is designed for sleep," he said. "You sleep, get out, try to regroup. I didn't want it to be a place where people just hang out."

The portability of the Sleep Trailer means it can be moved to wherever the need might be greatest, Christensen said.

That doesn't even need to involve chronic homelessness, he added. The trailers could be used for disaster relief housing after fires, floods or hurricanes. They could be parked outside fairs and festivals for performers or participants. You could lease one for a family reunion or a hunting camp. Bars might have one out back for someone who needs to sleep it off.

Johnson said he would have loved for Albany to have had a Sleep Trailer on hand last year during the fires, when displaced families flocked to the Linn County Fair & Expo Center. "I think for emergency situations, it's a great solution," he said. "I'd love for Albany to be the epicenter of this."

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