German city builds futuristic-looking ‘nests’ to protect the homeless from cold winter nights

An open Ulmer Nest in Ulm, Germany
Ulmer Nest

The winter months are tough for many of us, but these cold nights can be a nightmare for the homeless. Due to the lack of shelter, homeless people are at risk of getting frostbite during the frigid winter days.

A team of six entrepreneurs and technical experts are trying to tackle this growing problem head-on by installing futuristic-looking homeless pods across the city of Ulm.

These homeless pods look like they’d take their users to another dimension, but they’re actually meant to function as an emergency refuge for the homeless during the night.

Ulmer Nest

The design team first came up with the idea of these sleeping pods in 2018, but they were only able to test them last winter in parks and other places where the homeless frequently sleep. Some improvements have been made to their features since then.

The pods—dubbed “Ulmer Nest”—are constructed from wood and steel and are both windproof and waterproof. They’re meant to sleep up to two people are designed to protect their inhabitants from rain, frost, and humidity. The mini shelters also offer improved thermal insulation and guarantee fresh air circulation.

However, the creators have emphasized that these capsules aren’t an alternative to proper overnight shelters, especially as Ulm can reach dangerously low temperatures during the winter.

Two men inside an Ulmer Nest
Ulmer Nest

The nests are equipped with solar panels and have enough room to accommodate the user’s belongings and a furry friend.

They’re fitted with sensors that can monitor humidity, smoke, and carbon dioxide levels. It has an electronic verification system so its users can lock the pod from the inside. People won’t need keys to access the chambers, but they’re locked during the day until 6 p.m.

The capsules also come with lighting and an alarm buzzer. They’re also connected to a radio network so users can communicate without depending on mobile networks.

The designers skipped installing cameras in the pods to protect the people’s privacy. However, every time its doors are opened, a motion sensor is activated to let social workers know the capsules are in use, so they can get them cleaned the next day.

An Ulmer Nest during the winter
Ulmer Nest

The workers also visit the nests the following day to ensure that the cabin is empty. They also invite the user(s) to engage with Ulm’s homelessness service to ask for assistance if they need it.

Another great thing about the pods is that users need not fill any paperwork or registration to check-in, making the small shelters easily accessible.

Aside from providing temporary sanctuary to rough sleepers, the pods also allow charities to connect with the city’s homeless population to help them better.

Ulmer Nest

According to the creators, the pods are still in the early testing phase, and there’s still a lot of work to do to improve their functionality and features.

“For this winter, we modified details of our door in an effort to improve usability both for the people sleeping in the Nests and the social workers checking in on them. Also, we spent a good deal of time improving insulation and climate management, to be able to keep humidity and temperature at the best possible levels while operating on a limited budget of energy,” Florian, one of the Ulmer Nest team members, said in an interview with Bored Panda.

An Ulmer Nest
Ulmer Nest

However, they’re glad that the public has responded very well to the nests in Ulm.

“We’ve even seen some effects that we didn’t dream of, like neighbors providing the overnight guests with hot tea in the morning and such. Also, city officials were always very supportive and positive about the project, which helped us a lot. And then there’s a lot of those small moments when working on the Nests out in the city, and people come up to say thank you (homeless and not homeless alike). That also means a lot actually,” Florian said.

Homeless people tend to feel cast aside by society, and these kinds of initiatives are exactly what makes them feel seen and cared for. Hopefully, we’d see more similar projects in the future.

6 thoughts on “German city builds futuristic-looking ‘nests’ to protect the homeless from cold winter nights”

  1. A commenter made a very good point: full services are needed, not just a sleeping pod, although sleep pods can be a start, at least giving people some small measure of protection from the weather, and from the malicious 2-legged predators throwing bricks at them occasionally.
    A good start,
    but more social services, health services of every kind, and education of various kinds are needed to provide a bit more of a complete start to helping the most vulnerable in our society, and making us all safer in the process.

    Stay safe, Farah, and thank you for sharing this news,
    -Shira

  2. I am very moved by this homeless outreach project in the process of coming about. I really think its an excellent idea but a concern is that what if these pods get vandalized by the people using them and you say they dont need to fill out any paperwork so how does the peopke who build them know who has misused these pods and who hasnt? Just curious because as grateful and respectful most might be, you always have some bad ones that ruin it for everyone.
    From: A concerned citizen.

  3. Awesome innovative solution to assist. It’s definitely a great model for other cities in all countries to follow.. congratulations-great work!

  4. Nice!
    So… do you also provide bathroom amenities close by? Imagine the smell if everyone stepped outside and just used nature!

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