These Awesome Bus Benches Double as Homeless Housing
A Vancouver organization’s pop-up shelters provide a dry spot to sleep
加拿大溫哥華的人性措施-給homeless的臨時過夜長板凳It rains a whopping 200 days out of the year in Vancouver, which isn’t terrible if you have a cozy pair of galoshes and a warm, dry sofa to curl up on every evening. But what if you’re homeless and spending the night sleeping on an exposed bus bench?
That’s where some tricked-out transit seats are helping to save the day. Equipped with a pop-up “roof,” the benches keep residents of the Canadian city with no place to go from getting drenched.
The benches were created in 2013 by local advertising agency Spring and grassroots advocacy group RainCity Housing, which provides progressive services to Vancouver’s homeless. During the day, the benches serve as seating for those waiting for the bus to arrive. At night, the front lifts up and out to create an overhang. The back of the bench tells homeless people, “Find a home here,” and it gives RainCity’s address.
“We don’t know if they have been used by homeless folks, but probably,” Bill Briscall, the organization’s communications manager, told The Telegraph. The need in Vancouver is certainly there: “In a park one block from my house I see people sleeping overnight almost every month throughout the year,” Briscall said.
The benches are a welcome contrast to the trend of draconian laws and policies that negatively affect the homeless. Norway hopes to make begging punishable by jail time. Earlier this month, anti-homeless spikes sparked controversy in London; a posh apartment building had installed the pointy pieces of metal in an effort to keep people from sleeping on its grounds.
Meanwhile, here in the U.S., cities have installed transit seats with dividers or have turned to impossible-to-lie-on curved benches to keep homeless folks from sleeping on them. While the goal is to help people get off the street and into permanent housing, this solution in Vancouver is nice to see.
Metro's bench dividers at bus shelters seen by some as slap at homeless
Clinton "Road Dog" Camp, 45, from Kansas City, sits on a bus bench with everything he owns in a backpack in St. Louis on Wednesday morning, Dec. 18, 2013, on Market Street across from the Post Office. Metro added dividers to its downtown bus shelter benches, which keeps people from sleeping on them. Photo by J.B. Forbes, [email protected]
Plastic dividers have been installed on this bench at the Metro bus shelter in front of the Post Office on Market Street.
ST. LOUIS • At 17th and Market streets, Clinton Camp calls a concrete slab his home. At least it has been for the past few nights.
Camp, 45, has been homeless for years and likes the bus shelter overhang at this St. Louis spot. His backpack, tennis shoes and other gear rest on the bench at the bus shelter.
He sleeps on the concrete because two plastic dividers on the bench prevent him from stretching out.
"This will stop you from sleeping on the bench," Camp says of the brown dividers, about four inches high. "I sleep on the ground where it's colder. At least I have a backpack and mat. Not everyone who's homeless has that."
So far, Metro transit agency has added the dividers at 40 benches downtown. It has enough money now to retrofit 250 benches, and the agency might consider expanding it to hundreds more across the region. Metro started the project in August.
The dividers should make it impossible for homeless people to lie down for a nap. Keeping homeless from sleeping on the benches "is not a primary reason, but obviously it's a factor," said Metro spokeswoman Patti Beck.
"It's all part of the loitering," she said. "You're not a customer and our customers come first. So if you are not a Metro customer, you shouldn't be loitering or hanging around."
Bench dividers have been used in other cities for years. Critics of the practice called benches in Tokyo's public parks, for instance, "anti-homeless" benches. Some U.S. cities retrofitted old benches, while others like Los Angeles had larger benches with molded-in seat dividers.
Beck said Metro customers who are waiting for a bus are reluctant to ask someone to move over if that person is taking all the bench space with bags or purses.
"We are adding them because it better uses the space for our customers," Beck said. "It makes the seats clearly designated. ... With the designated seating, we can maximize those benches."
Each divider costs $8.65, and each bench gets two.
The American Public Transportation Association has recommendations for rapid transit stops. "Design must discourage the use of seating for sleeping," the association says. It recommends using dividers along the length of a bench that is at least four feet long.
The Rev. Larry Rice of the New Life Evangelistic Center sees the dividers as symbols of "the ongoing war against the homeless." Rice says the anti-homeless sentiment is stronger than any time in his 42 years of working with the homeless.
"I have to choose my battles," Rice said. Bench dividers are a small problem, he said, compared with other challenges homeless advocates face such as trying to open new shelters. "Even if the benches didn't have dividers," Rice said, "police or Metro security would be running them off if they lay down."
William Siedhoff, director of human services for the city, said Metro made the move on its own, not as part of any broader city effort.
Michael Stoops, director of community organizing for the National Coalition for the Homeless, calls the bench dividers just one of many tactics some of the nation's largest cities have taken to "try to criminalize homelessness," beginning in the early 1980s. Other tactics include removing park benches altogether, putting covers over steam grates and outlawing panhandling and camping.
"Cities on a regular basis have been putting up dividers on benches and flower beds to keep people from making it their home," he said. "They won't admit it publicly, but it's targeted at the homeless population."
Stoops said it affects more than just the homeless. It affects people who are tired after a long day of work or those who are disabled and need more room to stretch out.
"The cities want to drive the homeless out of downtown areas, but it doesn't work," Stoops said. "The homeless will find a place to sleep."
Beck said Metro currently has enough money from its maintenance budget to retrofit 250 benches with the dividers. Metro has benches at all of its 500 bus shelters in St. Louis, St. Louis County and St. Clair County. The benches are 87 inches long and each seat, with the divider, is about 28 inches wide.
"We are going to do as many as we can with the budget we have, and then assess doing more, in the future, as needed," she said.
The shelters shouldn't be confused with Metro's 7,434 bus stops. Some bus stops are just signs along the road. Some have benches and no shelters.
Camp, who uses the nickname "Road Dog," admits that some homeless can find a way around the dividers. They might push blankets near the plastic to make the lump less intrusive. Some cities have larger dividers that look like metal bars and are taller, resembling arm rests.
Camp, from Kansas City, said he hopes to make his way to Chicago soon, somehow. He says he is homeless for many reasons. He says he has physical and mental disabilities. He was hit by a car while riding a bicycle in North Carolina a few years ago.
He says the benches he remembers in Chicago, from the last time he was there, didn't have the plastic dividers. But he chooses to sleep in the subway anyway.
Camp is looking forward to leaving St. Louis. He says the homeless aren't treated well here.
"The cops mess with you in St. Louis," he says.
A Vancouver organization’s pop-up shelters provide a dry spot to sleep