The Story Behind London’s ‘Anti-Homeless Spikes’ Controversy

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The Story Behind London’s ‘Anti-Homeless Spikes’ Controversy

By: Danielle Thillet

Homelessness is a complicated (and heartbreaking) issue. People sincerely want to be sensitive to the plight of those living on the street, but it’s near impossible to fix the root causes, as they’re generally caused by bigger issues (economic, social, etc). So even helping one person, one time, barely makes a dent in the overall problem. But there’s a huge difference between well-meaning ineptitude and the recent firestorm over the treatment of some homeless in London.

Recently, pictures taken outside a luxury apartment building in central London exploded on the Internet. It showed "anti-homeless spikes" installed in a concave section of wall by the front door of the building. The studs are there to prevent “rough sleepers” — homeless people who are forced to sleep outdoors and/or on the street —  from being able to stay in that area. The location would be ideal to protect from weather conditions and also be extremely clean, which is better than what most rough sleepers can usually get. Several nearby residents reported seeing people sleeping in that exact area just weeks before the studs were placed — including a mother and child. Many people are obviously outraged because of the similarity between these spikes and the ones installed on roofs to keep pigeons away. If homeless people are treated the same way, it’s not a wide leap to assume building managers consider them the same, as vermin and not people.

The pictures sparked an onslaught of additional photos, surfacing via Twitter, of other locations with similar deterrents, including under a bridge, and, ironically enough, along the side of the office of the British School of Osteopathy.

It's also led to a number of high-profile critics have speaking out against such practices. Katharine Sacks-Jones, head of policy and campaigns at the nonprofit organization Crisis, wrote in an op-ed for The Independent: “Putting spikes in a sheltered doorway only shunts a homeless person down the street, to the next space. But if we treat the homeless with dignity and respect, and as individuals, we can help them break out of homelessness for good.” Howard Sinclair, head of St Mungo's Broadway told Channel 4 News that the spikes were a “rather brutal way” of preventing rough sleeping, and that the aim should be to “to help people move in, not just move on”.

Even the mayor of London, Boris Johnson said in a tweet on Monday that the spikes were “ugly, self-defeating and stupid”, and called for their immediate removal. A petition at Change.org has already garnered over 70,000 signatures.

London’s homeless problem has been growing in recent years and requires fast action, and aid for those who are suffering. We’ve already learned that housing the homeless saves money as well as lives — blocking them off like wild animals just helps keep your expensive property looking nice. Which is fine, we guess, if that’s all you’re able to care about.

[Pic via Andrew Horton and Telegraph]

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