Photo taken on Dec. 30, 2017, shows origami-style cardboard tents near Central Station of Brussels, Belgium. (Xinhua/Wang Zichen)
by Xinhua writer Wang Zichen
BRUSSELS, Dec. 31 (Xinhua) -- A few meters away from the statue of horse-mounted King Albert, two origami-style cardboard tents lie quietly in the shadow of the Europalia Festival Center building.
With homeless people inside on a wet Saturday night, the cardboard tents are the new temporary shelters innovated by an entrepreneur and distributed by a local charity.
Ingenuity is required because Brussels bans material tents on the streets and homeless people far outnumber traditional shelters.
"Most of the shelters in Brussels are overcrowded by winter time. It is very difficult for a homeless person to get into such a shelter," Olivier Vanden Avont, head of the charity L'Appel du Coeur which distributed the cardboard tents, told Xinhua via email.
La Strada, an NGO that monitors the homeless in the city, reported that the Brussels area had more than 2,600 homeless people in early 2017.
"There are only about a hundred beds but many more homeless in the street," said Vanden Avont.
Adding to the problem is Brussels' ban on material tents. Citizens concerned for the homeless have to find a way around the ban.
"Police see people in a tent, they ask to remove the tent; but they accept to use cardboard," said Xavier Van den Stappen, the entrepreneur behind the origami-style cardboard tents, told Xinhua.
Van den Stappen said the invention of origami-style cardboard tents came after meeting someone living in the street who was gathering some cardboard.
The problem with the cardboard is that it's not big enough and cannot be carried easily, noted Van den Stappen.
"We came up with an origami-style cardboard tent to make it light, to make it easy to carry and give protection," Van den Stappen said.
With local temperatures ranging from 0 to 10 degrees Celsius in December, homeless people are having a difficult time with the winter cold.
"The homeless will be able to protect themselves at least a bit from the wind and the cold temperatures. They also have a little bit more privacy this way if they need to change clothes or if they just want a moment away from all those people constantly staring at them," Vanden Avont added.
The first origami-style cardboard tent was distributed on Dec. 22. A week later, L'Appel du Coeur helped deliver 19 more around central and north railway stations in Brussels. Unsold food and essential stuff to survive in the street such as a survival blanket and a coat against rain were also delivered to the homeless during the charity's weekly distributions, according to Vanden Avont.
Rains, one of Brussels' features, remain a challenge to the origami-style cardboard tents, Van den Stappen said. "We also decided to do a follow-up, maybe in the future to do some modification to improve the (tents') quality."
Future costs of the origami-style cardboard tents could be around 30 euros (around 36 U.S. dollars) a piece, estimated Van den Stappen, who has so far largely paid for the tents himself.
In the meantime, he is calling for support and contributions to further care for the homeless in the Belgian capital, also home to the headquarters of the European Union and NATO.
"It's a bitter shame for the capital of Europe to see that there are so many homeless people in a rich country, a very comfortable country," Van den Stappen said.