A Vancouver charity has introduced some very clever benches into the city as part of a campaign to help the city’s homeless.
Along with Spring Advertising, RainCity Housing installed the modified public benches with the aim of providing shelter for the homeless as well as raising awareness.
The campaign has been seen as a counterpoint to recent controverisial anti-homeless measures that have been springing up around in London in recent weeks.
While, at first glance, the above bench seems ordinary, a place where people can sit and wait for the bus, at night , the backboard of this bench can be raised - providing shelter for anyone who needs to sleep on it.
Another of the benches in the Canadian city bears the words “This is a bench” during the day but at night, those words disappear and are replaced with the glow-in-the-dark phrase “This is a bedroom” - highlighting that for some this is the only bed they have.
Both benches also have the charity's contact information and address if anyone wants to seek their help.
This progressive initiative - while obviously not solving the homelessness problem - is a stark contrast to some of the measures that have been used in London.
At the beginning of June, controversy arose after a number of anti-homeless spikes were installed outside a luxury apartment building and a branch of Tesco (among other locations).
Charities and local residents were outraged and even the Mayor of London Boris Johnson denounced the one-inch studs as “ugly and self defeating”.
A petition to remove them has received over 120,000 signatures. After protesters threw cement on their spikes, Tesco bowed to public pressure and removed them but the others remain in place.
Spikes outside Southwark housing development to deter rough sleeping are ugly, self defeating & stupid. Developer should remove them ASAP.— Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan (@MayorofLondon) June 9, 2014
However, as the Guardian reports, the spikes are only part of a growing trend of “hostile architecture” designed to influence - and curb - people’s behaviour in public spaces. Increasingly, designs are being chosen for how well they deter so-called anti-social behaviours such as sitting, sleeping and skate-boarding.
Rowland Atkinson, co-director of the Centre for Urban Research at the University of York, told the Guardian that these measures could be seen as hostility and indifference to the less fortunate.
“If you were being a bit cynical but also realistic, it is a kind of assault on the poor, a way of trying to displace their distress,” he said.
As the Vancouver project shows, however, thereother, more constructive ways to deal with this issue.
In an email exchange with The Huffington Post, Spring Advertising’s Creative Director Rob Schlyecher explained why projects like theirs are so important:
“Simply put, our society cannot expect homeless people to just go away. They need a safe place to sleep and a base from which to stabilize their lives.”