Shelter Depot:
Dignifying with choice

What is Shelter Depot?

Shelter Depot is the first of its kind: a co-created and globally scalable, locally adaptable DIY home improvement store serving the displaced, offering affordable, innovative and accessible products and services that inspire customers to create homes they’re proud of.

Refugees know best how to improve their physical lives. Shelter Depot gives them that choice.

Shelter Depot makes home improvement products and services accessible to displaced people worldwide including construction materials and education, household items and agricultural tools. The menu of products and services is customized based on customer demand, feedback, and insight and is ever adapting to better meet customer needs.

Shelter Depot is a co-creation with our friends and partners, Alight.

Unfortunately, over 110 million people are displaced worldwide today, which is expected to reach over 250 million in less than 30 years. There is no shortage of emergencies to respond to with new ideas. And in these displacement events, there are at least two phases: emergency response and protracted crisis.

The aid industry focuses heavily on the emergency response phase and relies on imported solutions that fail within months of implementation as the crisis progresses into something long-term. After emergency funding dries up, there is no long-term plan in place or funds available to invest in solutions that last beyond the acute moment of crisis. Refugees will now be displaced for over 20 years on average, but all the money gets spent on the front end of that timeline.

The United Nations has three primary goals as outcomes for a refugee:

  1. Return home through repatriation
  2. Be integrated into a host country
  3. Be permanently resettled in a new country


The reality is that the vast majority of refugees don’t have the option to return home due to safety, and only 1/10th of 1% of refugees globally get resettled. As a result, host country integration is the major pathway forward for most refugees.

Enter Shelter Depot. This is where Shelter Depot is designed to shine, as an anti-fragile aid distribution method where refugees can decide for themselves what they want for their homes for that twenty-year-plus timeline of living away from home.

Shelter Depot is a hardware store that treats refugees and displaced families as customers so they can build lives of wholeness and agency in the new country they are a part of.

Shelter Depot:

Closes the gap between need and solution in camp settings.

Shelter Depot History

2015 – The Problem

Shelter Depot began germinating as a concept as far back as 2015, when Scott Key and Sam Brisendine piloted their Emergency Floor system in the Beka Valley of Lebanon with 35 Syrian refugee families. Within months of installation, a variety of INGOs unaffiliated with the pilot reached out to Scott and Sam about how they could get the flooring product. Apparently refugees from many miles away were asking for this flooring system by name. Naively Scott and Sam thought that they could get these families floors. However, they couldn’t sell it to them and they couldn’t give it to them without three different bureaucracies (UNHCR, MoSA, and their assigned implementing aid partners) signing off first. To put it another way, these families couldn’t make decisions for themselves. Bureaucrats with no knowledge of the specific needs, preferences and aspirations of these families stripped them of their agency and dignity. That’s where the unfortunately radical idea of giving refugees choice through a hardware store was born.

2019 – The Preparation

In 2019, Every Shelter spent time in the Nakivale refugee settlement of Uganda to vet the idea with families living there. The result of that time and subsequent months of research and development was a book called Shelter Depot: A Field Manual. This publication expounded on the idea and gave guidance on how to get a store started. In February of 2020, Alight, a large humanitarian organization in the refugee relief space, was ready to launch the first Shelter Depot with Every Shelter. Unfortunately, COVID had other plans.

2022 – The Plans

In the summer of July 2022, Alight reached back out to get the plans back on track, and together, Every Shelter and Alight launched the first Shelter Depot in the Bidi Bidi refugee settlement in North-Western Uganda. Built at a small scale for pilot testing, the store was an instant hit, proving out the hypothesis that if given choice, refugees know best how to choose for themselves.

2024 – The Present

After the Bidi Bidi store proved successful, Alight and Every Shelter came together to launch a flagship store in Nakivale, a large refugee camp in south Uganda. Construction will complete in May 2024, for a store launch and opening in early June. The renderings of the store are below.


2024 and Beyond: the Future Vision

We aspire to place a Shelter Depot within walking distance of every refugee in a settlement in Uganda, and to scale this model to the world.

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