One of the campaign's bench designs. Image: RainCity
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Vancouver’s homelessness benches were part of a charity ad campaign

But they’re still better than anti-homelessness spikes.

So, while London is making life as horrendous as possible for homeless people, Vancouver is being all lovely and stuff. That, at least, is the gist of reports such as this, from the Independent:

When the management of a block of luxury flats in London felt they had an issue with homeless people sleeping on the doorstep, their solution was apparently to install a set of spikes... Perhaps [London] could look to the work of a charity in Vancouver for inspiration. RainCity Housing, which provides specialised accommodation and support services for homeless people in the Canadian city, has set up instant pop-up shelters that take the form of an ordinary park bench.”

They’re not the only publication to draw this contrast. Actually, though, it turns out that the benches aren’t part of any great leap forward in facilities for the homeless. They were part of an ad campaign.

Over two months last autumn, RainCity modified seven benches, as a way of promoting its services. Three were adorned with photosensitive type which lit up with the words “this is a bedroom” at night; four with a foldout rain shelter marked “find shelter here”. All seven were emblazoned with RainCity’s office address to encourage rough sleepers to seek housing help.

Bill Briscall, the charity’s communications manager, says they weren’t trying to make outdoor sleeping a more attractive proposition: “We see the benches as a conversation, a reminder that people really do sleep on benches.”

This may have backfired slightly. People from as far afield as Los Angeles, New Zealand and the rest of Canada have contacted RainCity saying they are keen to have similar benches installed in their cities, too.

This is a preview of our new sister publication, CityMetric. We'll be launching its website soon - in the meantime, you can follow it on Twitter and Facebook.

Barbara Speed is comment editor at the i, and was technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman, and a staff writer at CityMetric.

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Richmond is a wake-up call for Labour's Brexit strategy

No one made Labour stand in Richmond Park. 

Oh, Labour Party. There was a way through.

No one made you stand in Richmond Park. You could have "struck a blow against the government", you could have shared the Lib Dem success. Instead, you lost both your dignity and your deposit. And to cap it all (Christian Wolmar, take a bow) you self-nominated for a Nobel Prize for Mansplaining.

It’s like the party strategist is locked in the bowels of HQ, endlessly looping in reverse Olivia Newton John’s "Making a Good Thing Better".

And no one can think that today marks the end of the party’s problems on Brexit.

But the thing is: there’s no need to Labour on. You can fix it.

Set the government some tests. Table some amendments: “The government shall negotiate having regard to…”

  • What would be good for our economy (boost investment, trade and jobs).
  • What would enhance fairness (help individuals and communities who have missed out over the last decades).
  • What would deliver sovereignty (magnify our democratic control over our destiny).
  • What would improve finances (what Brexit makes us better off, individually and collectively). 

And say that, if the government does not meet those tests, the Labour party will not support the Article 50 deal. You’ll take some pain today – but no matter, the general election is not for years. And if the tests are well crafted they will be easy to defend.

Then wait for the negotiations to conclude. If in 2019, Boris Johnson returns bearing cake for all, if the tests are achieved, Labour will, and rightly, support the government’s Brexit deal. There will be no second referendum. And MPs in Leave voting constituencies will bear no Brexit penalty at the polls.

But if he returns with thin gruel? If the economy has tanked, if inflation is rising and living standards have slumped, and the deficit has ballooned – what then? The only winners will be door manufacturers. Across the country they will be hard at work replacing those kicked down at constituency offices by voters demanding a fix. Labour will be joined in rejecting the deal from all across the floor: Labour will have shown the way.

Because the party reads the electorate today as wanting Brexit, it concludes it must deliver it. But, even for those who think a politician’s job is to channel the electorate, this thinking discloses an error in logic. The task is not to read the political dynamic of today. It is to position itself for the dynamic when it matters - at the next general election

And by setting some economic tests for a good Brexit, Labour can buy an option on that for free.

An earlier version of this argument appeared on Jolyon Maugham's blog Waiting For Tax.

Jolyon Maugham is a barrister who advised Ed Miliband on tax policy. He blogs at Waiting for Tax, and writes for the NS on tax and legal issues.