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Albany man’s dream to help houseless takes shape with ‘Sleep Trailers’

By Kandra Kent

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    ALBANY, Oregon (KPTV) — An Albany man joined with a Salem business to create a special trailer designed to help people experiencing homelessness get off the streets and out of tents.

The mobile trailer features eight small sleeping pods, four on the bottom row and four more on top, that can be accessed from a ladder or stairway.

Jason Christensen said his idea for “Sleep Trailers, LLC” stemmed from a drive to work six years ago.

“I saw a gentleman sleeping over by a business overhang and I just thought, this can’t be the best we can do for human beings,” Christensen recalled in an interview with FOX 12 earlier this month.

“I was very upset and frustrated, and I thought, why isn’t someone doing something about this,” Christensen added. “And in that exact moment, I got this punch to the gut that said, ‘you’re somebody. Why aren’t you doing something about this?’”

For most, it might be a fleeting moment of guilt, but for the 36-year-old father of three, it was a profound question that would spark an idea that, in turn, led to drawing on notepads and napkins and a dream to make a difference.

Five year later, the pictures become reality, when Christensen took a leap and invested his money in a prototype. Last year, he took his designs to 20 Twenty Sustainable Manufacturing in Salem.

“We met and he had ideas and I think they were on a napkin or piece of paper,” said company president and co-owner Jason Babcock. “We took those ideas and put them into our design group and managed to come up with this prototype and we’re anxious and excited to have this out here.”

Christensen said he modeled his trailers after Japanese capsule hotels, which are little more than a bed and some room for belongings. The trailers are outfitted with heating, cooling and CO2 sensors, among other features.

Christensen said the most important features can give those experiencing homelessness a sense of dignity and security.

“You can lock it, you can leave your stuff there during the day and know it’s going to be there when you get back,” Christensen said. “One of the big issues with tent city is this fear of losing everything you have because what you have isn’t a ton so everything you have becomes of infinite worth.”

Christensen, who still works his day job in Salem as a behavioral specialist for those who cognitive disabilities, said he thinks having access to a sleep trailer could help a houseless person to eventually take other steps to improving their lives.

“I just thought, if I could have a small space to sleep, keep my belongings safe, lock it up during the day and leave, I could go anywhere from there,” Christensen said. “But that is the pure foundation of what it would take to stabilize mentally and really take the next steps in the right direction for you.”

Christensen said the sleep trailer he showed FOX 12 would cost a city or nonprofit roughly $65,000.

There are also options to build larger sleep trailers, or single-story ones, said Christensen, who says the benefits aren’t just limited to those experiencing homelessness He envisions the use as temporary relief during wildfires or other disasters, too.

Christensen said he’s meet with cities and nonprofits around the state, including Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler’s staff.

Christensen said he’s hopeful a pilot program somewhere could soon in the works.

“Finding the right person or the right organization that will help us — take it, use it, develop that proof of concept,” Christensen said.

It’s been a labor of love for the man who grew up in Salem.

His other big dream is one he’s already achieved: setting an example for his young children.

“That is something that brings me a lot of pride,” Christensen said. “Just seeing my kids — seeing their dad was willing to put it all on the line and try to make the world a better place, as a dad, there’s no better feeling than that.”

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