This is from August of 2008..but i am just now learning about it.

U-M grad’s art project aims to help the homeless



U-M grad’s art project aims to help the homeless

Michael H. Hodges / The Detroit News

U-M grad’s art project aims to help the homeless

By Michael H. Hodges The Detroit News

As final-year art projects go, Stephen Mills’ was a little unusual. Most every art-and-design senior at the University of Michigan was pulling together a thesis that involved a painting, a statue or something more conventionally artistic.


He designed and built a shelter on wheels for homeless people.

“I pretty much just decided I wanted to do something different,” Mills says by phone from New York City, where he’s now looking for design jobs after graduating in April.

“And I liked the idea of the project bettering somebody else’s life.”

In a puckish touch, Mills christened his creation the Homeless Utility Vehicle — or HUV.

Confused about the connection between fine arts and a mobile homeless shelter? Mills will emphatically assure you that he considers himself to be an artist and an industrial-arts designer.

But the truth is there’s plenty of precedent for artists engaging in this sort of socially motivated, functional design.

Mills tips his hat to a 1980s project by the New York artist, Krzystof Wodiczko — best-known for video projections on buildings and monuments — who also designed a sleeping-shelter vehicle for those living on the streets.

Judging from Internet images of Wodiczko’s vehicle, his metalwork might have been a bit more elegant than Mills’, but the latter built in one big improvement over its predecessor: You can push Mills’ HUV and still be enclosed by the arching roof, and thus largely protected from the elements.

It’s basically a very large shopping cart with a clear-plastic roof and a comfy, insulated sleeping panel — and storage — on the bottom.

Whether or not this prototype ever makes it to the homeless population, of course, is up in the air, though Mills is trying to pursue grants that might underwrite production. He estimates about $900 of materials went into the prototype. But, as he notes, the HUV project wasn’t conceived as a solution, but rather, “a concept piece to explore the issue” of homelessness.

Well, it’s art school.

But if the HUV isn’t meant as a substitute for a real home, it could, Mills and some homeless advocates believe, be a useful substitute for sleeping outside in bitter cold, since its compact size allows one’s body heat to warm it up.

As a test, Mills spent one night in the vehicle in March with the temperature in the low teens, and reports that — with a blanket — he was perfectly warm. (If it ever went into production, Mills envisions that the HUV would come with blankets.)

Deb Pippins — part of Washtenaw County’s Project Outreach Team for the homeless — wishes she had the HUV around when dealing with one particularly challenging client.

“We work with a lot of people with mental illness,” Pippins says, “and in one case, it took five years before this woman would accept decent housing from us.”

The HUV, she suggests, might have been a useful half-step that homeless woman might have agreed to much earlier — and certainly would have been a big improvement over sleeping in the woods, which is where Pippins says many of Ann Arbor’s homeless can be found at night.

Nor does she think HUV production is out of the question.

“There’s a lot of funding for innovative projects like the HUV,” Pippins says. “I would hope Stephen could get funding. The HUV may be a Band-Aid on a broken social-service system, but it’s a useful Band-Aid and could save people’s lives in the middle of winter.”

At U-M, the dean of the School of Art & Design, Bryan Rogers, salutes Mills’ design for combining “a social conscience with the practical needs of those who could use the vehicle.”

But he sees a larger utility, and one more intimately connected with what we normally call art — the HUV’s ability to force passers-by to do a double take, and perhaps in the process, reanimate the largely dead discussion on homelessness in this country.

“If something is thought-provoking,” Rogers says, “I call that useful. And the HUV says, ‘This is real. We have homeless people. Let’s make this work, as long as we have them.'”

another video…i would like to see one where it can be converted to a bike!



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