Activism

Activists Pour Concrete Over Spikes Meant to Deter Street Sleeping

“We should not be sending homeless people the message that they are pests who need to be warded off.”

Photo Credit: AFP

As if their city’s failure to provide them with shelter weren’t bad enough, homeless people in London faced further acts of dehumanization recently when a property developer and supermarket erected spikes meant to deter them from sleeping there.

A few weeks ago, spikes were assembled outside a grocery store called Tesco as well as in front of the entrance to luxury flats.  

“There was a homeless man asleep there about six weeks ago,” an anonymous resident told theTelegraph. “Then about two weeks ago all of a sudden studs were put up outside. I presume it is to deter homeless people from sleeping there.”

In response to the inhumane construction, activists called the London Black Revolutionaries took to pouring concrete over the spikes outside of Tesco, leaving signs behind that read “Homes Not Spikes.”

“We wanted to link the political objection to the anti-homeless spikes to an actual message of attempting to get them removed,” the activists told Vice.

An online petition demanding property managers and London Mayor Boris Johnson remove the spikes garnered nearly 130,000 signatures. Harriet Wells, the author of the petition, wrote:

As a mental health nurse in London I have all too often seen the result of isolating and mistreating our city's homeless. We should be offering practical and emotional support to help the most vulnerable to get back on their feet. We should not be sending them the message that they are pests that need to be warded off. 

Mayor Johnson said the spikes were “ugly, self-defeating and stupid” and called for their removal. On Thursday, the developers had the spikes removed, and Tesco also removed its spikes shortly after. But advocates are calling for outright bans on these constructions.

"This is the first instance [of spikes] I have seen but [since the petition] a lot of people have said they were around in London for longer. Ultimately we want a ban on all of them,” Wells said. “It is not a helpful way of managing homeless people."

While spike devices can be found worldwide including in New York City, they aren’t the only architectural devices used to deter homeless people from sitting or sleeping in public. A recent article in theGuardian details the public structures used globally for deterrence. Stainless steel benches, wavy benches and pay-per-minute benches are all part of cities’ "defensive urban architecture" schemes to further criminalize and demean people who don't have homes. 

Alyssa Figueroa is an associate editor at AlterNet.