#FeelGoodFriday: Helping the homeless sleep easy

Oliver Brain has come up with an innovative idea to help the homeless sleep more peacefully.

Street Sleeper founder Oliver Brain shows off a bag at his Cape Town workshop. Picture: Leah Rolando

CAPE TOWN - Do you know that feeling of doing something for a person who can never repay you in kind?

Hopefully you know what we mean.

Increase the scale of the giving, and make that person one of the most vulnerable residents in the city, and you are starting to get to where Oliver Brain is at.

The young man's heart went out to homeless people struggling without adequate shelter.

But while he knew he wanted to help in some way, he realised that it would have to be a sustainable initiative.

Luckily for them, Brain had his lightbulb moment not long after.

By applying his mind to some of the challenges faced by those sleeping rough, he came up with the perfect material to shield them from the harsh outdoor elements - PVC advertising billboards destined for landfill.

He has since been 'upcycling' the discarded materials by transforming it into survival sleeping bags.


Through a donation of R150, Street Sleeper is able to divert a billboard from landfill and transform one man's trash into another's treasured bed.

The brains behind the design is Chawal Wadi, a sewing machine operator from the Democratic Republic of Congo, who has been instrumental in transforming the billboard materials into bags.

"The design brief that I set myself in creating the bag, was to create a sustainably-sourced urban survival sleeping bag," Brain says.

Through understanding the homeless way of life, a few clever adjustments even ensured the bags become much more than just a bed.

Good length enables the sleeper to store his or her belongings at the foot-end while they sleep, while the width allows room for multiple layers like blankets in winter.

A pillow slip at the top end enables more comfort by creating room for clothes or other cushioning.

To top it all off, the bag doubles as a backpack in the day, which becomes a waterproof carrybag for any belongings.

A factor, Brain says, is really important for people who don't have a place to safely store anything.

Brain says the real magic comes with the distribution.

"It's here that we want to create a sense of value and a sense of empowerment for people using the bags," he says.

Volunteer distribution days are held, where members of public or homeless people who work with Street Sleeper help to distribute the bags to other street sleepers.

"It's great because it creates a sense of community and inclusion in the whole process," Brain says.

Brain is keen to expand the initiative as widely as possible to other cities and countries, and is open to working with any like-minded people or organisations.

"Street Sleeper is all about collaboration. So we're not protective over the idea in a sense. We want as many people to have access to these bags as possible.

It's really just to raise awareness on some of the issues facing some of the most disadvantaged members of our societies."

You can get involved in two ways:

1) Donating money which gets a bag to be made and distributed. You can do this by logging onto the website.

2) Donating your time and volunteering. You can do this by keeping an eye on Street Sleeper's Facebook group where distribution days are advertised.