How can carparks house the homeless?

An innovative idea assists the homeless by providing a secure place to get a good night’s rest. For two weeks last spring, a secure car park station in Brisbane’s CBD came alive after nightfall. Usually dark, silent and vacant, the car park was a hub of activity with a flurry of volunteers setting up air mattresses with fresh sheets and new pillows.

Onsite was a doctor, a nurse, a dentist, a social worker, a team of hairdressers, chaplains and people handing out clothes, food and drinks. Most importantly, 41 of the city’s homeless were there to sleep, knowing that they were safe, warm and had toilets and showers close at hand.

Norm McGillivray watched with joy as the pilot of his new charity, Beddown, came to life. For the father of three and grandfather of six, it was the fulfilment of a lifelong dream to help others, and a legacy of his own experiences as a young boy.

Like many people, when Norm was given redundancy, he was unsure what life had in store for him.

Instead of taking a well-deserved holiday, Norm applied for a series of jobs – without luck. So he decided it was time to put into action a longheld dream and set up something himself to help others.

Homelessness is an issue close to Norm’s heart, as his father had ended up living rough on the streets of London for many years.

Norm was also saddened to see ­research showing that homelessness in Australia is getting worse. “I think it is unacceptable to have 8000 ­people sleeping rough across the country every night,” he says.

In just a few short years in the ­early 1970s, Norm’s ­parents went from ­being happily ­married, to his father being struck down by a stroke at just 33. The stroke ­immobilised his father’s right side, causing his face to drop, ­impeding his speech and swiftly impacting the family business. The carpentry shop his dad owned closed, and there was little financial support available to the young family. The couple divorced and Norm’s father found himself living on the streets.

“I have vague recollections of him coming in and out of my life after that,” says Norm. His father would drop in every two weeks and get a ‘tidy up’ from his ex-wife, who helped him as best she could by giving him a shave, haircut and new clothes. He died at the age of 42 from a heart attack. His father’s experiences have been ever-present for Norm, and made him determined to find a way to help others in a similar predicament. But how?

After spending a few days working

through some concepts, serendipity finally stepped in as Norm was visiting a local shopping centre. “I’m not sure if my dad was looking down on me, but I got to the shopping centre, opened the car door and my lightbulb moment happened as I was standing in an almost empty car park.”

Norm’s idea was to open empty parking stations at night to the homeless. “The concept is to take spaces that are normally busy during the day but empty or vacant at night,” he says. “Car parks fit these criteria perfectly and can be repurposed into pop-up accommodation that is safe, secure and comfortable for the homeless to access a bed and a good night’s sleep.”

Getting sufficient quality sleep in a safe environment is a daily challenge for the homeless. “Sleep deprivation is a big issue, they are moved on regularly, fear for their security and have to contend with the environment,” Norm says.

“Sleep deprivation also leads to physical and mental health conditions such as irritability, memory loss, risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity and hallucinations.” These health problems make it all the more difficult to function normally, he says.

With the support of his wife and adult son and daughters, Norm used the money he received from his

redundancy to start a charity, Beddown. Once word spread, website designers, town planners and other professionals ­offered their services.

Finding a car parking company willing to donate the space longterm and support the idea was paramount. “Once I had my lightbulb moment, it was a matter of doing ­research on the main car park operators in Australia. Secure Parking is Australia’s and New Zealand’s largest operator with over 600 car parks.”

So Norm sent a pitch to Secure Parking chief executive officer Peter Anson, who invited Norm to Sydney to pitch his idea in person. ­Anson was immediately on board and of fered company assistance with the project.

After battling a great deal of red tape, Beddown finally commenced its two-week trial last September. “It was amazing to see Beddown come to life and see the impact it had on our guests,” says Norm. Positive feedback from some guests speaks for itself:

“Having a good sleep at night and a routine reminded me of life and I booked myself into rehab for six months,” said one guest.

“It’s the first time I’ve had a dream in years,” said another, while a third added, “I don’t have to watch my back here.” Perhaps most encouraging, one ­female guest found employment. ­After the benefit of uninterrupted sleep, she was able to work productively during the day.

While Norman was delighted with the impact of the trial, he is now fixed on securing a long-term solution. “[For our guests] to build a better quality of life, we need to understand their situation and help them access longer-term solutions for accommodation, rehabilitation, education and training.”

Since the successful pilot, Norm and Beddown’s corporate and business partners have been ­r eviewing and refining operations, as well as recruiting more volunteers and fundraising.

“My phone is constantly buzzing with messages of support and people asking when Beddown is coming to their city,” he says.

“I knew in my gut that this was what I was meant to do. I have also learned that you can ­create something from nothing with few resources. It takes hard work, grit, passion and determination but if you truly believe in something, you can make it happen.”

Thumbs up to Norman. Of course, some of you might point out that there is a deeper issue to fully solve the problem of people not having a home but I found this particularly interesting as it deals with space efficiency. Think of the spaces that are typically not fully utilised and see whether how we could enable it to be better used. Lots of opportunity there.

Check out my related post: How can an Olympian change a city?

Interesting reads:



  1. I liked this idea as it takes the person out of the elements and hopefully keeps them warmer, dryer and access to washrooms and safety. My little city doesn’t have underground parking, and only two multi layer parking lots which open to air. Although perhaps they could be adapted but that would mean more investment. – Nice story. – David

    Liked by 1 person

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