The homeless are some of society’s most vulnerable and abandoned people, but one Canadian company is on their side – by literally raising the roof in campaigning for new bench-shelters. RainCity Housing, a Vancouver-based nonprofit organization that provides specialized accommodation for the displaced, has transformed a city bench into a pop-up shelter complete with a makeshift roof.
Meanwhile, another bench has been fitted with a stirring message that reads “This is a bench” by day, and “This is a bedroom” by night. Creative director Rob Schlyecher of Spring Advertising and Design, who teamed up with RainCity for the one-month initiative, told Metro how the public has been buzzing about the project.
How did this project come about?
It’s been a part of our ad agency’s initiative of Strange Acts of Kindness. Other acts have included a pogo stick-powered “boinkathon” called Boink Day that raises money for local food banks, to a dollar-a-hug street event called Hugs for Hunger. We are working to supply uniforms and shopping carts for local homeless binners to give them respectability and credibility as they search for recyclable containers in the city’s garbage cans.
Homeless people are often discouraged from sleeping on park benches, so why did you decide to create a shelter?
Vancouver is the only major metropolitan area in Canada that has a mild winter climate. Add to that a decades-long policy of closing mental institutions and strangling funding support for those with drug and mental issues and you have a perfect storm of homelessness in our city. But our society cannot expect homeless people to just go away. They need a safe place to sleep and a base from which they can stabilize their lives. The park benches program can’t fix that but it can help direct the homeless towards RainCity. It is a small step in a big issue.
But how do you prevent homeless people from setting up a permanent home on the benches?
I think a park bench doesn’t make much of a permanent home so I guess that’s why it never happened. Homeless people move on. It was much more of a temporary help and a way to direct people to RainCity for assistance.
What’s been the reaction from the public?
Far greater than we expected. Here in Vancouver it has been shared almost five times as much as a story about the signing of a major hockey star to our local NHL team.
Will you be promoting this design on a more global scale?
For the time being we have no such plans, but we have moved on to a new project called Bottle Hunters that helps homeless bottle-collectors live and work with more dignity.