The “Little Palace” is designed as an alternative to sleeping on the sidewalk

While it is extremely important to find homes for the homeless, the sad reality is that many people will remain living on the street in the meantime. The Mini Mansion was designed with this fact in mind, as a portable and better equipped alternative to existing options.

Currently in functional prototype form, the setup was created by Canadian inventor Jason Harms. He resides in Nanaimo, British Columbia, and has a background in housing for the mentally ill, home renovation, law enforcement and criminology.

“The spark that got me interested in creating this design was seeing so many homeless people in our community walking around shopping carts stacked high and sleeping on the floor with tarps underneath,” he tells us. “I thought there had to be a better way to endure this hardship so they could be provided with supportive housing/services, etc.”

Even when crowded, the small palace still provides residents with a folding chair

Jason Harms

The resulting plywood device takes the form of 40 x 40 x 40 inches (1 m3), holds 200 lbs (91 kg) cube when not in use. It can then be rolled along the sidewalk (within reasonable distances) on four heavy-duty rubber tires.

Once needed as a shelter, the mini-palace folds and telescopes to provide 50 square feet (4.6 m) of floor space and 78 inches (2 m) of ceiling height, housed within the walls of a waterproof canopy.

The central indoor unit in the current version includes features such as a folding table, stovetop, sink and toilet, while an overhead light provides lighting and ceiling fans help keep occupants cool. Power is provided by a 40-watt solar panel that charges a 12-volt battery.

The little palace with its spreading canopy - the door cover can be lowered for privacy
The little palace with its spreading canopy – the door cover can be lowered for privacy

Jason Harms

Harms estimates that the basic unit can be built by most people for about $1,500 CAD ($1,112 USD) using existing or recycled materials. A lighter, more refined, professionally designed version may cost around $3,000 CAD ($2,224 USD). He’s exploring the possibility of starting a non-profit group to build and distribute Mini Mansions, and also hopes to hold workshops where other people can be instructed on how to build them.

With all that said, Harms admits that theft and vandalism are certainly concerns – but not necessarily in all usage scenarios.

“There are a lot of homeless communities that are more organized and supportive of each other where a Mini Mansion type shelter might be a good fit,” he says. “Ideally, several people will receive shelter at one time within the community in order to maintain equity and increase hope for others that more will arrive in time.”

“As with many things when it comes to homelessness and the housing crisis, it can be very difficult to implement new items or services into the fray, and the Little Palace is likely no exception. Distributing it will no doubt be fraught with challenges, but as a fairly new and unique entrant, “Whatever in this area, it may turn out to be a useful option.”

Interested parties can email Harms at

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