Photos by Michael Rakowitz

Keeping with the humanitarian beat this week as we reported in our story “Understanding To Humanitarian Concerns in Youth Culture to Introduce New Philanthropic Strategies Can Bring Brands Back to Life,” we bring you a little something to think about this Thanksgiving holiday called paraSITE. ParaSITE is a project taking place in Cambridge, New York, Boston, and Baltimore created by street artist Michael Rakowitz constructing temporary homeless shelters using the warm ventilation systems from buildings, plastic bags and tubing. We first came across his work on Wooster Collective which is always a good indicator of what’s up in the global street and graffiti scene, and took another look at what ParaSITE really means in context to today’s declining economy, increased homelessness and job loss rate.

According to Michael’s site, paraSITE are “Custom built inflatable shelters designed for homeless people that attach to the exterior outtake vents of a building’s Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) system. The warm air leaving the building simultaneously inflates and heats the double membrane structure. Built and distributed to over 30 homeless people in Boston and Cambridge, MA and New York City, paraSITE proposes the appropriation of the exterior ventilation systems on existing architecture as a means for providing temporary shelter for homeless people.”

Michael actually started his project back in 1997 as a prototype for a homeless man he knew named Bill Stone. “At the time, the city of Cambridge had made a series of vents in Harvard Square “homeless-proof” by tilting the metal grates, making them virtually impossible to sleep on.”

Here in downtown Los Angeles, we see homeless-proof mechanisms everywhere, ranging from random sprinklers in otherwise beautiful parks, to the ongoing drone of a loud sound recording of birds flying at the entrance of many metro/subway tunnels, and of course, really uncomfortable “seating” in the metros, if there are any at all.

Since his first prototype, Michael has constructed 30 such temporary paraSITE shelters, using temporary materials from the streets such as plastic bags. “While these shelters were being used, they functioned not only as a temporary place of retreat, but also as a station of dissent and empowerment; many of the homeless users regarded their shelters as a protest device, and would even shout slogans like “We beat you Uncle Sam!” The shelters communicated a refusal to surrender, and made more visible the unacceptable circumstances of homeless life within the city.”

Michael goes on to say, “This project does not present itself as a solution. It is not a proposal for affordable housing. Its point of departure is to present a symbolic strategy of survival for homeless existence within the city, amplifying the problematic relationship between those who have homes and those who do not have homes.”

Something to think about this Thanksgiving holiday. Read more about the parasite project here: