Classist transit: Bars on bus benches outrage homeless advocates

Anti-rest contraptions viewed as sign of larger problem

This story was made possible by a grant from Tower Cafe

Bars blocking benches. Spikes lining windowsills. Overpass sidewalks mysteriously “closed to pedestrians.” Last week, homeless advocates vowed to push back against certain design components around public spaces that they say subtly enforce social divisions and promote classism.

The conversation recently gained momentum when Kimberly Church, who operates a weekly safe space for homeless adults under 30, noticed a Regional Transit bench in Citrus Heights that had four bars across it. The bars allow people to sit on the bench, but make it torturous to lay on the bench.

Touring downtown Sacramento, SN&R observed other bar-laden benches at RT stops, including near the Sacramento Community Theater and Capitol Park.

Church and other homeless advocates plan to attend RT’s February 26 board meeting to call for a change of policy. “We have a lot of conversation about racism and sexism, but classism is completely invisible,” Church noted.

RT spokeswoman Wendy Williams told SN&R that roughly 25 of the agency’s 1,600 benches have bars across them. Williams said the controversial benches were installed five years ago by an official who’s no longer at the transit agency. Williams said RT no longer installs such benches because they’re “less comfortable” for customers. Williams added that she thought the RT board would be open to replacing the benches and that the facilities supervisor is testing to see how easily they can be adjusted.

Some Sacramentans experiencing homelessness say the problem goes beyond RT. Vestibules and breezeways across the central city are blocked off from being used as shelters, a move supported by the Downtown Sacramento Partnership. Even the recesses of some state buildings are obstructed with river stones.

David Andre, who lives on the streets and often speaks at council meetings, has become used to the messages that these obstructions send. “Most of the stuff just becomes everyday,” he said. (Michael Mott)