Urbanisation and growing density are being largely attributed to the increase of homelessness in cities.
While some architects are creating what is being referred to as 'anti-homeless architecture,' others are helping cities respond to the growing problem of homelessness with innovative street furniture that serves the city by day and the homeless by night.
Cities including Paris, London and Montreal have been heavily criticised for their “defensive” design solutions. For instance, metal spikes have been installed on some buildings' doorsteps to deter homeless people from sitting or sleeping there. More subtle designs have seen arm rests placed in the middle of park benches or oddly shaped street furniture that prevents loitering or sleeping.
Earlier this year, Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre took to Twitter to convey his disapproval of metal spikes, designed to deter people from sitting on a ledge, which were installed in front of a music and book store.
Writing in French, the mayor posted on Twitter: "Anti-homeless spikes are unacceptable!!!!" after which they were promptly removed.
London’s Mayor Boris Johnson also recently put his weight behind an initiative to remove spikes installed in front of a set of luxury city flats. This cause was supported by an online Change.org petition which garnered 130,000 signatures.
Over the past three years, there has been a marked increase in “rough sleeping,” driven by the global financial crisis and a lack of affordable housing. This rise has seen many cities use design tactics to discourage homeless people from sleeping in public spaces.
Combating this, not-for-profit organisation RainCity Housing, a group committed to delivering progressive housing and support solutions for the homeless, has created two transformative shelter benches.
RainCity worked with local firm Spring Advertising to run a campaign revolving around the innovative benches. The campaign was designed to raise awareness of the issue of homelessness in the Vancouver area while also highlighting the lack of urban initiatives to serve the cause.
The first bench features a backrest that can be converted into an overhanging shelter. During the day, the bench has text which reads "This is a bench" while at night, the text changes to "This is a bedroom."
“The installation was printed with UV and glow-in-the-dark ink,” Spring Advertising says. “In the daytime, the black ink reacts to the sun and becomes legible and then vanishes in the dark. The glow-in-the-dark ink is not legible during the day, but illuminates at night."
There is a definite need for such street furniture, as Eberle Planning and Research estimated that there were 1,600 people homeless in Vancouver as at March last year.
“We don’t know if they have been used by homeless folks, but probably. In a park one block from my house I see people sleeping overnight almost every month throughout the year,” RainCity’s Bill Briscall told The Telegraph.
Yanko Design has created its own Homeless Haven concept by designers Ke Wan, Xiaohua Ma, Xing Guo & Quingxiang Zhu, which offers a more housing-inspired solution.
Also working as a low park bench by day, it lifts to convert into an oval-shaped structure that is almost fully enclosed.
Homeless Haven uses a hinge structure similar to that of a scissor lift to lift and lock into place, allowing people to climb inside and offering a little more warmth and shelter than a park bench.
These new initiatives may prove beneficial in alleviating some issues associated with homelessness.