Billion Bricks: Homes That Save Lives

The Problem:

  • There are 100 million homeless people around the world who cannot even afford a slum-dwelling.
  • Out of these, 35 million homeless people live in Central and Western Asia with 11 million homeless children in India alone.
  • Natural calamities like cyclones and earthquakes exacerbate the problem of homelessness, displacing millions of people every year.
  • These homeless people are subject to elements of nature, unhygienic living conditions and abuse.
  • Each year thousands of displaced and homeless people die during the harsh winters of North India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and the region.

The Solution:

To build temporary life-saving shelters for the homeless in the absence of or until conventional shelters are built.


The Innovation:

Winter Homes are temporary life-saving shelters that can be quickly deployed before conventional relief shelters are built. The timely provision of shelters is crucial in saving lives in the wake of natural calamities or humanitarian crises.

Winter Homes can be built as life-saving shelters for the homeless to help them tide over the harsh winter months, protecting them from death and disease.

To keep the inhabitants warm inside, Winter Homes tap on body heat which makes them both cost-effective and efficient. The ‘skin’ of the shelter is made of Mylar - a water proof, wind resistant material that can reflect body heat and provide insulation akin to space blankets.

The structural framework is made of PVC pipes that are easily procurable, light-weight and portable. The cost of procuring and assembling one Winter Home that can house 5 persons is $100.

A Winter Home can be assembled by an individual in 15 minutes without any training and without the need no need to drill, hack holes or glue.  Watch how easily a Winter Home can be assembled here.

By allowing members of a family to sleep together, Winter Homes give its inhabitants the ‘feel of a real home’.

As procurement and assembling can be localized, Winter Homes also provide opportunities for livelihood and economic advancement to the street dwellers.

Further innovation is in the pipeline for Winter Homes in the form of a ‘summer version.’ By reversing the Mylar skin and allowing the silver side to be up, the shelters can reflect the heat away and keep the inside of the shelter cool for use in summer. 

These remodelled ‘Homes’ can then protect the homeless against the blistering heat that grips the Indian sub-continent and claims thousands of lives in the summer.


The Inspiration:

Prasoon Kumar, an architect by profession, founded Billion Bricks in 2013 with a vision to eradicate homelessness and prevent deaths in the homeless. Prasoon’s work is reminiscent of pioneering disaster relief architect Shigeru Ban’s work in building temporary emergency shelters from paper.


 “The need of the hour is to shift focus from building homes for those who already have one to those who have none.

Our focus is on people who can't even afford to live in slums. Those are the real homeless"- Prasoon Kumar, Billion Bricks


In the year 2013, over 50 displaced children forced to live on the streets in the aftermath of the Muzzafarnagar communal riots in Northern India succumbed to the bitter cold. The incident prompted Prasoon Kumar to come up with the concept of ‘Winter Homes’ to prevent death in the homeless due to extreme weather conditions.

The Billion Bricks team looked at how the homeless in urban areas faced the harsh winter conditions. The findings were shocking and dismaying. Thousands slept on the pavement with only a thin tarpaulin sheet or a blanket to cover them. These provided scant protection against rain, frost and near freezing temperatures of 1-2 degrees Celsius.

Often these people huddled together in front of a bonfire to keep themselves warm through the chilly night. ‘Winter Deaths’ were thus a grim reality and the life expectancy of the homeless was far below average.

‘Winter Homes’ offer an effective solution against the bitter cold as these keep rain, frost and cold wind out. The ‘skin’ maintains comfortable temperature inside even as the mercury dips outside. Read how a ‘Winter Home’ prototype passed the ‘cold test’ in Uttrakhand in Northern India.


The Impact:

The problem of homelessness is set to deepen as urbanisation and immigration continue to burgeon. Due to urban space crunch, conventional housing may not be the solution. As Prasoon pointed out, “Resources needed to build, maintain and service conventional homes is humongous."

Winter Homes may hold the key to a sustainable solution against urban homelessness if the requisite governmental and community support is forthcoming.

For people like you and me, home is a place we often take for granted. It is a place which welcomes us back no matter how far our work or travel takes us. It is a place where we relax and spend time with our loved ones, a place which not only shelters but also rejuvenates us to take on the challenges of the next day.

But for people like Shilpa - a daily wage earner in Delhi (seen in the video above), a gruelling day of work in the blistering heat or in the bitter cold holds no promise of returning to a safe haven at the end. 

With no roof on her head or walls to shelter her and her children from the inclement weather or street dogs at night, Shilpa has no place she can call home. Without the security of a shelter, Shilpa cannot dare to dream of a better future for her children. Like other street children, her children will soon fall prey to abuse and crime. But she and her children deserve better.

With Winter Homes, Prasoon and his team at Billion Bricks are determined to give her what she deserves- the basic human dignity of having a HOME.

[Photos and video: Billion Bricks]


 If you want to find more about socially conscious living in Asia, check out Asia For Good's social enterprise directory.

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