A place for weary heads to find rest

Crossroads Communities, ‘sleep trailer’ pioneer collaborate on event to shelter the homeless

By Sarah Brown
Lebanon Local

For those who curl up under blankets and comforters in soft beds every night, a wooden trailer with eight rectangular sleeping spaces may not sound too inviting.
But for others, it’s “like a five-star hotel.”
That’s what one homeless person told Crossroads Communities founder KJ Ullfers about a “sleep trailer” the organization hosted Feb. 13-17 at First Christian Church.
Crossroads, which provides services for homeless and transitional persons, offered places to sleep in a specially designed trailer on a trial-run basis. It featured eight separate spaces, each with a lockable door.
“This is a pilot program, noting that we don’t know how effective it will be when we decide we want to do it,” Crossroads Communities Executive Director Michael Couch said. “But we gave ourselves every chance for success, planned out accordingly and we plan on taking notes to find out where we can do better next time.”
The trial run allowed the group to determine how the trailer could work and gave Sleep Trailer, LLC founder Jason Christensen a chance to test its functionality. The Salem resident has been working on the concept since asking himself seven years ago when “someone” was going to do something about people sleeping under business overhangs.
“I thought, ‘This is so stupid. How come we don’t have places for people to sleep? This can’t be the best that we can offer a human being in my community,’” he recalled.
He was subsequently hit with what he described as a “punch to the gut,” along with a realization: “You’re somebody. Why couldn’t you do something?”

JAPANESE POD HOTELS, left, provide simple solutions for people who are looking to catch a few zzz’s. Photo: Flickr-Kojach

So, he began researching options, such as tiny homes and pallet shelters, until he came across the Japanese concept of capsule hotels. Also known as pod hotels, the spaces are a little larger than a single bed, providing just enough room to lie down and sit up, and include electrical outlets, a small television and a locking door.
Christensen said it seemed like the most obvious logical solution. He took out a loan and hired a manufacturer in August 2021 to build the trailer as a prototype without electrical outlets or other features. The spaces are coated with truck bed liner paint and include a drain for easy cleaning.
Crossroads Communities took advantage of the opportunity to host the sleep trailer for its first use, allowing Christensen to show proof of concept to nonprofits and governments. His plan, he said, was to reach out to agencies interested in his idea for their own communities.
He plans to build another trailer with heating and air conditioning and is considering a long-er pilot project to demonstrate its function in a society seeking solutions to homelessness.
Ullfers said finding a city or nonprofit willing to buy into the concept is “half the battle.”
He approached the City of Lebanon during a Dec. 14, 2022, City Council meeting to discuss hosting the trailer for a week, but his proposal was denied. The city did, however, agree to provide a trash can, porta-potty and handwashing station for the week. First Christian Church opened its parking lot to the trailer.
Ullfers stressed that the trailer was in no way funded by taxpayer money, as many on social media have alleged. He also said that should the nonprofit ultimately purchase its own, it wouldn’t be intended as a permanent solution to the problem.
“This is an entry portal for folks that are falling through the cracks, that we haven’t gotten into the system yet, so we can identify their needs and help them move on and move off the streets,” he said. “This is just so they don’t die on the streets.”

Tina Jones and her dog, Pearl, sit in front of the Sleeper Trailer at First Christian Church. Jones was able to use the trailer during the trial run.

Tina Jones, who sleeps in her car with her dog and said she’s on multiple years-long waiting lists for housing, stayed in the sleep trailer for the week.
“I think it’s great,” she said. “It’s excellent to be able to stretch out, and you feel safe because of the lock on the door. You stay warm and it’s real spacious.”
About 30 people showed up that first night, Couch said. Crossroads originally intended to serve arrivals on a first-come, first-serve basis, but found that some initial users were “proactively protecting the site,” so they were allowed to stay all week.
Participants had to agree to 21 points. These rules included: no use or possession of illegal drugs, no use of fires or gas and electric units, cleanliness, no violence, maintaining quiet hours at night and assuming responsibility for their pods.
Ullfers said one user was caught with drugs in a car parked in front of a trailer and was promptly kicked out. He returned the next day to collect his belongings and apologized, telling Ullfers he hoped he didn’t ruin the program for others.
“We want people who actively want to get help so they can improve their position,” Couch said. “We’re not looking to give handouts. The people who stay there have certain agreements they’ll make to stay there and it’s their job to police the site because they understand if there’s huge issues of noise, if they act up, if they act out, if they’re loud during all hours, if there’s drug use onsite, we’re just going to pull the trailer and call it a failure.”
Couch said users loved the trailers, but some areas needed improvement, like better accessibility for the disabled. The next step is to explore trying the trailer out again, this time for a month-long run, then acquire funding for their own trailer and find a location for the program.
“We’re taking baby steps,” he said. “We want to be as effective as possible. We don’t want to trip and fall and ruin it for everybody. We want each of our growth opportunities to be a way to build on our previous successes.”
Should Crossroads obtain its own sleep trailer, it will be used much like it was during the trial run. Namely, users check in at night, then check out in the morning.
For Christensen, providing a place to sleep isn’t just about providing a place to sleep, but about mental health. As a behavioral specialist for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, he said it was natural for him to question how to break the pattern of homelessness.
“It always comes down to safety and security and, for me, privacy,” he said. “If you’re sleeping in a big congregate setting where you’re 5 feet away from somebody who’s having a mental-health crisis, you’re not going to sleep. But if you have a door you can lock up and you know you’re safe. You can finally stop thinking in only 12-hour increments and start thinking about the future and start actually making some choices.”
Whether sleeping in a shelter or out in the community, houseless individuals manage only one to two hours at a time, he said. One of his trial-run residents couldn’t remember “such a long stretch” of sleep in years.
Despite some minor kinks, Ullfers thought the program was a success.
“It gives them a place where they can stretch out and get a good night’s sleep without fear of someone assaulting them, stealing their stuff or just screwing with them,” he said. “It gives them that opportunity to just relax and unwind.”