News, Policies, & Trends Opinion

Convert Bus Benches into Homeless Shelters?

By | Apr 20, 2015

Vancouver bench/shelter

A “homeless-looking” man sleeping on a bus bench is certainly one of the many stereotypical images of homelessness in this country.

Of course, if I were homeless, I would look for the most convenient location to sleep at night—like a bus bench made of wood.  A cold, hard concrete sidewalk would not be my first preference.

Some cities, however, view people sleeping on their bus benches as a nuisance. They believe that these benches should be used by people waiting to ride the bus, not for people looking for a place to sleep. As a result, these jurisdictions design benches with metal dividers or with a curved-shape, so that the bench cannot be used as a bed. This removes the need for a sign that states: “No sleeping, only sitting.”

Vancouver, however, has decided to pursue an alternative solution to the dilemma of people sleeping on their bus benches. If homeless people are going to sleep on these bus shelters, then why not make them actual homeless shelters?

A local advocacy group, along with an advertising agency, decided to create a bus bench, which operates as a typical bus bench during the day. But then at night, part of the bench lifts up to become a roof, or a shelter, for people who need a place to sleep. It becomes a pop-up homeless shelter for one.

With the presence of thousands of bus stops throughout most cities, this would certainly solve the problem of the dearth of shelter beds for people who are homeless. This sounds like a quick and inexpensive way to increase temporary housing for people who are homeless.

Of course, there is no heating, food, showers, nor personal counseling for these people. Perhaps volunteers could leave food baskets at each bus bench?

Actually, I think that we sometimes spend too much time and creative energy on “helping” people who are homeless, rather than simply “housing” people who are homeless. The real solution is to provide real homes for people within our homeless population.

A bus bench with an awning is not a real home.

But given the lack of permanent housing for our homeless population, should we convert bus benches into temporary pop-up homeless shelters in the meantime?