Last year’s homeless count revealed that, on any night, Los Angeles County has around 47,000 homeless people, a 5.7 percent increase from 2015, and an 11 percent rise within the city of Los Angeles, according to the Los Angeles Housing Services Authority.
In the San Fernando Valley, the homeless population grew to 7,335, a 35 percent increase. The sight of men and women shivering on streets in the winter and sweltering in the summer heat is unavoidable in this area.
Veronica González and Maggie Mejía, both 17 and seniors at San Fernando High School, see homeless people every day on their way to school. The image was the inspiration for a project they and 10 other girls began last summer, a project they hope to show at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) this summer.
They need some help to get there.
More on that later. First is their invention, which is impressive.
A Solar-Powered Tent
The 12-member engineering team is all female — specialists in computing, electrical wiring, and design. Together, they created a solar-powered tent for the homeless.
The tent can seat a mother and two kids comfortably. It features a solar panel, a LED light bulb with USB-port for charging a cell phone or computer and even a UV light to sanitize the inside of the tent. There is a fold-up table for the kids to do homework. And the tent converts into an easily carried backpack.
“We were thinking of convenience for the occupant. We always see that the homeless are being moved from one place to another, and this way they can easily assemble [the tent] and put it away,” Mejía said.
Math teacher and San Fernando High Magnet Coordinador Violet Mardirosian said the students “were self-motivated” about the project. “They felt really strong about addressing the needs of the homeless,” she said.
The students have been working on their idea since last summer. They are one of 15 teams of young inventors in the United States that received a $10,000 Lemelson-MIT InveTeam grant from MIT to solve real-world problems through engineering. They are the only all-female team.
Their tent is only a prototype. But Mardirosian believes the tent could be mass produced and distributed, not only to homeless here but also to refugees and people in worn-torn countries like Syria.
So do the students.
“We do see a lot of homeless using this,” González said. “We saw things that we want to try to help solve in our community. As we walk to school, we see the homeless. We do struggle. Any moment, our family can fall into homeless.”
From The Valley To MIT
The project hopefully culminates into a trip to MIT in June to showcase their invention at EurekaFest, before some of the brightest engineers in the country as well as potential investors.
But a cross-country trip for a large group can be expensive.
The team has established a GoFundMe page (http://bit.ly/2nKttSe), on which it writes, “We would like all of our team members to be able to participate in this once in a lifetime experience. However, none of the grant we received can go towards travel expenses. We are solely reliant upon fundraising to make it possible for all team members to take part in this experience. This is where we need your help! We are asking for support with lodging and travel expenses.”
The students need to raise at least $15,000 to make it to Boston. At press time, they had raised about $5,000.
Neither Mejía, nor González have ever been to the East Coast.
“To go out there would mean a lot. We want to distribute our project to people,” said González said.
“We want to bring awareness to the homeless in the Los Angeles area,” Mejía added.
They hope an entrepreneur buys into their idea.
“Even if we can help one person, that’s great,”
Contrary to what you may think, Mardirosian says they are not all the brightest students at the school. But they have enough knowledge that, as a team, they have created something that could be highly beneficial for those in need.
It has inspired many of them to think about a future in engineering.
Mejía was admitted at UC Merced and would like to study engineering and theology, which she says is “a powerful force.”
González is not sure where she wants to go to college, but knows she wants to study electrical engineering.
“I worked on the solar panel team and I really liked it,” she said.
If you would like to help the students get to Boston, you can donate at https://www.gofundme.com/diy-girls-present-at-eurika-fest-mi.