Montreal·BEST OF 2019

Montreal teens create backpack that turns into a shelter for the homeless

Wanting to draw attention to homelessness in Montreal, Macdonald High School students Pasha Jones and Adrianna Vutrano decided to do something about it for their school's science fair.

Macdonald High School students made invention for their school's science fair

Pasha Jones, left, and Adrianna Vutrano created a backpack that transforms into a shelter for the homeless. (Claire Loewen/CBC)

This article was first published in September.

When Macdonald High School students Pasha Jones and Adrianna Vutrano had to come up with an idea for their school's science fair, they knew they wanted to invent something that would help the homeless.

"My uncle actually died on the streets," Jones told CBC's Homerun. "Due to mental illness, he became homeless and started living on the streets."

So the 15-year-old friends came up with a creation intended to keep people living on Montreal's streets warm during the winter months.

"Not everyone will choose to go into a shelter," said Jones.

Armed with materials they bought at their local hardware store, Jones and Vutrano created a two-kilogram backpack that transforms into a shelter.

"It's like an accordion. It contracts and expands," explained Vutrano. "It expands up to around six feet."

The shelter, which they dubbed A Portable House, is lined with a space blanket, which helps it keep it warm during the cold winter months.

"In the winter, it's six to seven degrees warmer inside," Vutrano said.

The shelter expands like an accordion and it can get as long as 1.8 metres. (Claire Loewen/CBC)

But what about the hot summer months? The students also have a solution for that.

"We want to make the portable house reversible, so the space blanket is on top," explained Vutrano. "The sun would reflect off of it, so it's cooler inside."

Like every good inventor, the teens tested their creation to make sure it could be used in the streets of Montreal.

"We tested outside at zero-degree weather and we stayed in all day," said Jones. "It's super comfortable."

Two students created a shelter that can be turned into a backpack

4 years ago
Duration 1:41
Have a look at the shelter these students made as part of a science fair project.

Homeless population growing

Last year, I Count MTL, a federal initiative to count the homeless population in the city, established that there are around 3,149 homeless people in the city.

Out of those, 678 people were living on the streets — a 58 per cent increase compared to 2015.

"We wanted to create something that they could use that can actually help them stay safe on the streets without having to use the shelters," added Jones.

Their project wowed the judges at their science fair, and they went on to show off their invention in the Canada-Wide Science Fair, held in New Brunswick. 

"It was a great experience," said Jones.

"It was so much fun," added Vutrano, "like once-in-a-lifetime experience."

Looking for partners

The high school students are now looking for partners, such as government agencies or a company, to transform their project from a prototype to a product ready to be mass-produced.

Adrianna Vutrano,15, shows how the shelter looks as a backpack. (Claire Loewen/CBC)

They estimate that if the materials were bought in bulk, it would cost around $10 to make each one.

"Right now it's made out of hula hoops and tarp that we bought out of our hardware store," explained Jones. "We just need someone that could help us create it at a mass volume."

They hope to one day see their invention being used by Montrealers living on the streets.

With files from CBC's Homerun