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Backpack Bed for homeless named an Edison Award finalist

Friday, 8 March 2013 | By Michelle Hammond

A backpack bed designed by Melbourne social enterprise Swags for Homeless has been named a finalist in the social impact category of the 2013 Edison Awards, to be held in Chicago next month.


The Edison Awards, named after American inventor Thomas Alva Edison, recognise innovation and excellence in the development, marketing and launch of new products and services.


The awards program is conducted by Edison Universe, a charitable organisation dedicated to fostering future innovations. This year’s awards will be held in Chicago on April 25.


Among the finalists is Swags for Homeless, a Melbourne-based not-for-profit charity. Its founders, husband-and-wife team Tony and Lisa Clark, designed the Backpack Bed.


The Backpack Bed – a finalist in the social impact category – aims to improve the dignity, health and comfort of homeless people, many of whom are turned away from shelters.


It can also be used by campers, and the Clarks are currently negotiating with camping retailers.


Weighing about 2.9 kilograms, the Backpack Bed has a built-in mattress and can be rolled up to be worn as an ergonomic backpack.


It was manufactured in Asia by a factory used by the United Nations. As a result, it meets 47 international safety and quality standards.


In addition to being waterproof and windproof, it is also fire retardant and mildew-resistant. Tony Clark told StartupSmart he came up with the idea while sitting in church one day.


“Something needed to be done. We thought, ‘If I was homeless, what would I need? A bag to hold my things and a bed.’ By joining it together, that’s the Backpack Bed,” he says.


“I’m six foot five as well and I also like to feel comfortable, so I made it extra long and gave it extra width around the shoulders.


“We made it [high quality] so we really couldn’t be attacked.


“By attacked, I mean we didn’t want people to say, ‘How could you give this rubbish to homeless people?’ That’s something that’s really failing in the charity sector.


“[We wanted to change the mindset of] you’re homeless – you should be grateful for anything you get.”


Clark is quick to point out the Backpack Bed is not a solution to homelessness but merely a small measure to improve the plight of those who are homeless.


“We are the first people to high-five people who say, ‘People need to be housed’. However, there’s a reality we are in today. People are turned away every night without shelter,” he says.


“When a homeless person gets the opportunity to be in a shelter, they can’t stay there forever. There are timelines. It could be three weeks or it could be six weeks.


“The whole deal is around human rights. Everyone has the right to health and everyone has the right to dignity.”


Clark estimates start-up costs for the Backpack Bed were approximately $65,000.


While he has contributed some of his own money, the bulk of the funds have come from grants from charitable organisations.


“When you kick off a new brand with a start-up idea, you’ve got to find people who believe… We help over 200 welfare agencies around Australia alone,” he says.


“Then we’ve got New Zealand, we’ve got the UK and we’ve got Germany. We want to pump out almost 160 units to places that have never seen us before.”


According to Clark, the recognition as an Edison Award finalist presents an opportunity to further the international expansion of the Backpack Bed, namely in the United States.


“The Edison opens the doors for Swags for Homeless to help with the dire homeless situation in the USA,” he says.


“This April… 100 Australian Backpack Beds will be delivered to homeless across several cities on the US east coast, including New York and Washington, with another 40 to Chicago.”